Famed biologist Richard Dawkins is credited with coining the term ‘meme’, but not in the way we mostly use it today. He was referring to the natural process of mutation and replication we know as Darwinian Evolution, but he has spoken since then about the more relevant type of meme in today’s society, calling the easily shareable media format a creative “hijacking of an original idea” that “leaves a footprint in the media through which it propagates”.
As in Dawkins’ field of biological studies, the evolution of the meme came to define the internet culture of the 2010s as we watched the genre shift from monochromatic backgrounds featuring basic .png images and Impact fonts of yesteryear to the cutting, raw, and ruthless form of comedy that they often are now.
In the lead up to WWII we saw the rise of the propaganda poster and film to sway society. In the 1960s, a nationwide counterculture movement took to the streets and turned politics upside down. Today we see Fortune 500 companies dedicating big bucks hoping to make the next viral meme and banking on it showing the world that they know how to laugh too and, therefore, you should buy their shit. We see the president re-tweeting them almost daily and celebrity deaths now spawn countless tasteless memes before the bodies are buried.
For better or worse, the internet meme is a powerful tool in our culture, and the best memes tend to come not from marketing executives but from the grassroots of society, so it only makes sense that the cream of the crop come from the cannabis community.
ANATOMY AND HISTORY OF THE MEME
A good meme is self-contained. It needs no extra written caption or explanation making it the ideal vehicle to convey the creator’s thoughts quickly and easily across the full spectrum of the internet – from Reddit and Twitter where nearly every viral meme is born, to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, email, chatrooms, forums, and even platforms like Twitch or Discord groups… a square-formatted meme works well on all of them.
When it comes to weed memes, there are basically two main categories:
Common Weed Memes about common weed themes. These are the memes that usually feature Snoop Dogg being high, or an actual dog looking high, or both, or an elderly person lamenting about the creeping effects of edibles. Most of these are harmless (and nearly humorless) but too many of them just perpetuate old, tired stereotypes about “stoners” and do nothing to show just how deeply the roots of cannabis culture run.
Culture Rooted Weed Memes, on the other hand, not only require that the creator of the meme has spent some real time around cannabis, but that the audience has as well. This pre-requisite can limit the overall number of Likes and Shares compared to the cookie-cutter ‘common’ cannabis memes, but as with all things weed-related, it ain’t always about the numbers. A well-timed, culture-specific, cannabis meme can have a bigger impact on a company’s success or failure than a 5-figure ad campaign.
The sophistication of the cannabis culture spawned the subcategory of “Dank Memes” which has now transcended the cannabis culture to encapsulate any heady, well-crafted, visually appealing, next-level meme. But let’s take it back, back to the first seeds we can remember seeing sprout in the weed meme game.
As the culture really took root in markets like California and Colorado in 2012, 2013, 2014, memes, in general, were rapidly gaining in popularity, moving away from relatively obscure sites like YTMND.com and SomethingAwful.com and beginning to clog up social media feeds with Pepe the Frog and the ever-growing gallery of crudely hand-drawn meme faces. By 2016, “memes” had surpassed “Jesus” in internet search queries.
Along this same timeframe, cannabis culture was indeed thriving here in Cali with the state’s grey area surrounding medical marijuana proving to be an ideal breeding ground for personal and professional rivalries, some less friendly than others. The people who understood the power of quick-hitting, potentially viral messaging rapidly emerged as trusted sources for not just what was funny, but for what was true, and when those pioneers began to employ or even weaponize the power of the meme, cannabis culture would never again be the same.
One of the earliest adopters of this new style of communication was California-based hash maker, Matt Rize. Known for preaching about, and creating, some of the world’s finest ice water hash, Rize gained as many enemies as he did fans by relentlessly attacking the solvent-based side of cannabis extraction by way of clear and clever memes.
“I first encountered memes in the forums, before social media,” Rize told us recently. “The downside of most forums is obsessive moderation, both for-profit and to protect egos. Forum memes have always been popular, weed and laughter, but the jokes only had teeth if the butt of the joke was a forum foe or competitor. The vibe was don’t rock the boat, and don’t step on toes because there could be business ramifications. That didn’t really work out for me… I was banned from all but one forum.”
It was around this time that social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram really began to gain in popularity and traffic, and Rize used both as megaphones to call out whatever caught his eye in the cannabis community.
“There was no other meme maker on social media at the time,” he says, “I tried to call attention to the elephants in the room, like open blasting and the BHO vs hash feud. Clever memes got as many likes as my best photography, mostly from the cannabis industry. Most of us truly love to laugh.”
What goes around the world wide web comes back around though and the backlash against Rize’s digital guerilla tactics led to physical threats against him as well as this cannabis culture classic video meme.
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*Bonus points for this one as it serves as a perfect example of Godwin’s Law – which many consider to be the original internet meme – which states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”.
To this day, Matt Rize is still churning out some timely fire in meme form on his Instagram account, telling us, “Now there are so many cannabis-related meme pages that I lost track. A lot of them go for low hanging fruits, but I did the same when I first started making memes. What is undeniable is that the cannabis community appreciates humor, while also being an endless source of it.”
If memes were truly to be weaponized, however, the warlord was a man named Mickey Martin, from Cali’s bay area.
A scathing writer and cannabis activist, Martin’s memes went for the jugular no matter if you were friend or foe. This culminated each year with his infamous #FUCKMICKEY Awards, a collection of Mickey-made memes that propped up a few people that he saw doing good, and tore down a dozen or so more that he felt had… let’s just say… less than good intentions for the cannabis movement.
As a co-founder of the non-profit prisoner advocacy group Parents 4 Pot, Mickey used memes to trigger guilt trips in his financially secure peers to make donations to the group around the holidays.
Martin’s memes are pretty primitive looking back on them now, but they are a perfect representation of their era and of the evolution of the artform. Mickey, through those memes, showed us that the unrefined truth was the ultimate equalizer versus all of the bullshit we all saw heading our way with legal weed. Mickey passed away far too young in the summer of 2017, after Prop 64 had passed but before it had been implemented and devolved into the shitshow it is today. His voice, and his memes, are missed now more than ever.
MEME-WEAVERS OF TODAY AND BEYOND…
The division caused by California’s attempt at a recreational weed industry has created a playground for meme-makers as the clash between the outlaws that sowed the seeds for legal weed and the corporate Chads and Brads who have tried to come in and monopolize it provides plenty of opportunity for cold hard comedy.
Despite the fact that cannabis is a legal, multi-billion dollar commodity in California and 10 other states (so far), many traditional marketing platforms still shun the industry due to continued conflict with federal law. This makes it difficult to build brand awareness and separate yourself from the pack. Consumers are demanding authenticity from cannabis brands, but the majority of those brands cannot figure out how to effectively communicate that authenticity within the narrow confines of an Instagram or Facebook post.
Clout King out of Northern California does not have that problem. As their name implies, this crew has hijacked the cannabis hypetrain and is barreling down the tracks. Love them or hate them, they couldn’t care less, but if you love good weed the quality of their products is right on par with their nuclear-grade memes.
A legal, licensed entity within the state’s regulated cannabis market, Clout King expertly uses original memes to retain their street market cred while also helping to preserve the culture from which they came. With hilarious memes about hiring and dealing with trimmers, to the roller coaster of emotion that comes with shipping weed out of state, to the age-old struggle between buyers and sellers (and middlemen), Clout King memes make us feel like we are in an episode of The Office… on weeeed.
Their version of Michael Scott is a man by the name of R.R. Stanley who may or may not be constructed entirely out of memes. Part lawyer, part spirit animal, Mr. Stanley helped to put Clout King on the map with his perfectly timed entrance into the market coinciding with countless college kids and Canadians who dressed and sounded a lot like him trying to do the same. His brash commentary on the state of the industry is laced with genius-level satire and sarcasm that typically generates one of two reactions: “Holy shit that guy is an asshole” or “Holy shit that asshole is hilarious!”
It’s not just all laughs, though. As California’s cannabis regulations took form and law enforcement ramped up against unlicensed grows, prices of cannabis began to fluctuate. Memes by influential and heavily trafficked outlets like Clout King reaffirmed that buyers don’t set prices, farmers do. This may seem trivial to some, but this gets right to the heart of culture preservation in our opinion.
We caught up with Z from Clout King to get his terp-fueled take on this highly influential form of media and on some of the other punslingers firing shots across the bow of the cannabis community – check out this back and forth:
BB: How did you get into the meme game?
CK: Prior to 2017, I didn’t have an Instagram or any social media interaction with the cannabis community. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz CA and always had 3-4 prepaid “burner” phones since I was about 17 years old (I am 32 now). Saying I was a bit paranoid from being raided and thrown in jail multiple times is an understatement.
In May of 2017, a kid that worked for me suggested I start an IG so I could join a group chat where cannabis memes were shared. I started my personal IG where I was first introduced to cannabis meme culture. Soon after that I started making my own memes that pretty much targeted people in that group DM. There were about 10-12 people in that group chat and most of them either cultivated or trimmed for me. To make a long story short I roasted everyone pretty good (in a benign way), a few of them ended up quitting and started a new group chat excluding me.
After that I started making cannabis memes based on all the bullshit I’ve dealt with over the years. I showed them to one of my partners’ girlfriend and she convinced me they were hilarious enough to start my own page. In September of 2017 Clout King was born. It became clear to anyone who saw my memes that I had been a part of the industry for a long time.
BB: Authenticity matters, for sure. What other meme content creators were on your radar at that time?
CK: Back then the top meme pages that were getting attention were Calioutdoor (When I thought he actually made his own memes), Extract Artist The Magazine and Sourwavez. Each one of these pages satirically depicted some part of the industry. Sourwavez would always talk about how pounds were going to dip to $500 per during the flood of 2017 along with making fun of Bulgarian growers, Hmong trimmers and best of all not paying Wook trimmers. EA the Mag mostly roasted cannabis “influencers’ ‘ such as Koma, Loud Packs Jay, Greg Beams and The Healing Alchemist. And Calioutdoor just stole whatever memes he could get his hands on and mixed in some original content that was mainly pro-Trump propaganda.
BB: Can you talk a bit about the marketing value in the viral nature of a fire meme, and how that translates to cannabis brands?
CK: As IG became the main source of marketing for cannabis brands (both legal and trap), memes started to expose mids brands and overrated strains and revealed to a lot of buyers what west coast prices really were. If you can show people a spec of truth through a clever meme it has the possibility of going viral and getting a lot of attention across the country.
BB: What were some of the memes that you remember having made a big impact when you dropped them?
CK: The biggest meme topics that made a clear ripple effects in the market to my recollection were Purple Punch is all bag appeal, Ignite flower is mids marketed by hot girls and a rich kid, people do a lot of blow at cups, in 2018 that prices were shit, in 2019 that prices are through the roof, and finally the MAC is overhyped and noseless. I saw each one of these topics resonate with others connected to the industry and alter peoples’ opinions on a fairly large scale considering the size of the cannabis community.
BB: Why do culture-based cannabis memes matter?
CK: My page is clearly satire, which means that there is truth in the underlying message of the meme but is exaggerated to show the irony of a person, brand, or situation. As the cannabis market across the country evolves, I think consumers are looking for authenticity amongst all the newcomers in the industry that have shitty products backed by large marketing budgets. When followers find truth in the memes, they realize that you really know the plant and have been in the industry before it was legal or “cool” you have their ear and can guide them to valid opinions.
BB: We have smoked your Clout King branded flower. It is excellent. How’d you make the jump into the regulated market?
CK: After getting a lot of attention on IG, and people constantly asking me what strains and products I didn’t think were trash in my DM, I decided to turn Clout King into a brand. I was very hesitant at first due to my longstanding history of staying under the radar in the traditional market, but it was clear as I was converting to the Prop 64 regulated market that brands were the biggest part of the industry.
So, this IG account that was my outlet to sarcastically talk shit about every facet of the industry became my main source of marketing. I would do random troll stunts like the Dan Midzerian debacle, making fun of Capulator/MAC 1, or the famous Stan troll. This form of marketing known as “trollsvertising” was coined by some random follower in my DM. I entertain my followers with memes on my main feed and advertise my flower on my story and the Cloutking.grown page.
BB: Well, your brand blew up real fast. Like we said, the weed is fire and that’s what matters, but it’s safe to say that your brand is rooted at least partially in meme culture. That’s cool. Can you tell us a little about your process for cooking up a new meme? You’ve been on a rampage lately!
CK: When creating a meme, I have a situation in mind and try and find/photoshop a pic to fit the scenario I’m depicting. Now that I’ve made one to two memes every day for the last 2.5 years, I now usually find popular meme templates and tailor them to current cannabis topics. Like for instance how Chads grow shitty weed, or that Medmen is broke as fuck.
Clearly, we here at Beard Bros. respect those that are willing to ride the edge to get a message across. Hell, that’s our SOP. The top meme makers in the game certainly don’t do it to make friends, and any one of them worth following is sure to make any one of us cringe from time to time, but that’s comedy. That’s the edge.
There are countless talented memetic engineers tirelessly working day in and day out to clown on corporate cannabis, filthy wooks, and CBD cowboys, and we give them all thanks. How this chapter of the cannabis reform movement is ultimately written remains to be seen, but we grassroots historians are marking more and more major events with dank memes, so the future is sure to be hilarious no matter what.