Florida Medical Cannabis Collective: T7|04: The Emerging Toxic Culture of FL Cannabis Social Media

How We Got Here

It was Summer of 2018, and work was stressful. I had recently been promoted for the 2nd time within the calendar year, and I was admittedly not ready for the job in front of me – not at that point.

At that time, I had been a regular cannabis user for about 9 years. It all started in late high school, early college. I didn’t realize that I was self-medicating for depression (and a form of PTSD), but as the years went by and I saw the sustained benefits of my cannabis use, I realized that this was my medicine – more so than any pharmaceutical pill could ever hope to be; I had tried all of the major SSRIs and benzodiazepines, and all of them made my symptoms worse. I’d even tried Vyvanse as an alternative therapy for all my depression and anxiety-related issues, but that sent me down a rabbit hole that ended in a mild case of amphetamine psychosis. Nothing was working – except that the reality was, the cannabis was working – I was just clouding it all up with the other pills, and the weekend alcohol binges I often partook in during college. I realized that cannabis was all I needed as far as medication for my depression and anxiety.

Back to Summer 2018. I had been looking at getting a medical marijuana card for some time at that point, and I finally decided to pull the trigger. Though I was an experienced cannabis user, I was clueless as to how to navigate the landscape of the Florida medical cannabis community. That’s when I discovered the Florida Medical Trees subreddit. I was taken aback at the wealth of knowledge I found there, but what was even more notable, was the close-knit, helpful and positive community I saw coming together in each post. There were just under 2,000 registered users in the subreddit at the time, whereas the current membership is 13.9k – so one can imagine the small community vibe.

FL Medical Trees helped me through that first 3-6 months of having my card, and though the community was steadily growing, the quality of the average user was as well. There was a good relationship between the ~5 moderators and the growing community, and information flowed freely, helping many a new patient (me included) find their way to products and dispensaries that worked best for them.

Time passed, and the community was still growing. In early 2019 – late January or early February – I reached out to the moderator team and asked if they would like my help with the now-exponentially growing community. Though there were reservations about any perceived conflict of interest between my place on the team and my then-newly made website, they ultimately accepted. I was elated, as I had a chance to give back even more to the community that I loved so much.

Things went really smooth for the first couple of months that I was a moderator. At that time, smokable flower still wasn’t available, so most of us were finding ways to get into the ceramic vape cups that many of the MMTCs were offering at the time. The subreddit consisted of a healthy balance of product reviews, and more of the educational/informational sharing content that dominated the sub when I first joined. Users were still pleasant; there are always a few “bad apples”, but the vocal majority of the community always helped put the trolls and malicious users to rest rather quickly.

Inflection Point

I believe that the ultimate turning point, from the road we were on with the community at that time, to where we have gotten now – was when SB182 passed and legalized smokable flower in late March 2019. Naturally, the landscape of the industry – and the overall “vibe” of patients – changed rather quickly once this happened. I suppose it was Summer 2019 when I first felt a noticeable shift in the climate of the community and Florida medical cannabis social media at large. Before, I’d estimate that 1 out of every 10 users were “bad”; now, that had doubled to around 1 out of every 5. The vocal constructive majority of the community was still able to control the narrative, but many longtime members of the community began speaking of the change in the atmosphere of the sub.

This trend continued and amplified through the rest of 2019, culminating into an incident where a Florida MMTC began using targeted advertising to speak negatively about their competitors – in egregious fashion. So now, not only was the “bad vibe” becoming more prevalent in the Florida medical cannabis social media community, but it had infiltrated into the MMTCs themselves – which until that point, were very positive and supportive to one another – even with the competition between them.

This marked a second inflection point, from my recollection of events. The percentage of “bad actors” across social media (particularly in the FL Medical Trees sub) seemed to more than double. Now, the number of trolls and malicious members of the community seemed to be at 50% or even a majority. “Loyalty” to certain MMTCs began manifesting as bullying other patients for their choice of medication, which is never ok to do – ever. The number of negative and attacking comments began to increase, and many longtime members began leaving the community, further adding to the shift of the community’s climate.

After the turn of the decade, the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect our lives more and more. Everyone’s base stress level increased as the world, our nation, and our state all began to plunge into turmoil. Needless to say, this did nothing to help the already downtrending vibe of FL cannabis social media.

So now, we’re here.

Where We Are – 07.11.2020

It’s been exactly 2 years since I started becoming active in the FL cannabis community. With all that history and preface, how have things changed? Where are we now?

People are less helpful, and more spiteful.

The “community” feeling from the early days of FL medical cannabis social media seems largely gone to me, and that’s a sad reality to accept. I don’t think this is irreversible, but it has been trending this way for over a year now. It would take a large effort from every individual in the community to make it better, which involves a lot of “looking in the mirror”, and sometimes admitting past fault – something not many people seem to be good at doing consistently.

Hate messages are much more common and numerous.

Being a reddit moderator, I expect to receive a certain amount of “hate” – it comes with the role. Moderators of the FL Medical Trees subreddit have to remove users who show a pattern of attacking others, etc. – and they usually aren’t too happy when they receive the ban message, which often leads to a stream of hate messages and even a few death threats from time to time. Sadly enough, a certain degree of that is to be expected. We’re talking about humans, after all.

But man, has the frequency of that increased lately. No matter what the moderator team does or doesn’t do, there is hate for it. Conspiracy theories are the dish of the day, every day, and the moderator team is often the target. There have been the allegations of us receiving compensation from dispensaries since the first day I got on the team. We don’t. But damn, these days, I wish I did! Keeping in mind that depression is the main condition I’m treating with cannabis in the first place, a constant stream of negativity takes its toll after time. Meditation and stepping away are almost always enough to help shrug off the hate, but when it becomes a daily occurence, there’s only so much we can do; moderators are human beings that are dealing with life and the pandemic just like everyone else, and people forget that everything we contribute is on our own time and is not compensated for in any manner.

More often lately, I’ve found myself wondering if it’s worth it. The answer has always been “yes”, because the positive interactions have always outweighed the negative ones; however, I’ll say, again: the trend has not been good.

Beyond the moderator team, though, the community at large has been dealing with this more lately. We’ve all been removing more hateful messages between users, and that is a disheartening trend as well.

The community is trying to be “adult use” when it isn’t quite time yet.

This one applies to both MMTCs and patients. There have been advertisements lately from MMTCs that mention “sharing” of products, which is obviously illegal in Florida. Preceding that, have been “limited edition” products, something that seems extremely out-of-place in a medicinal market. Nobody would want a limited edition asthma inhaler, so why have limited edition medicinal cannabis?

Look, I get the spirit of marketability, and engaging with the community in fun and innovative ways. But we all need to remember this is a medicinal program (myself included at times), and convey ourselves accordingly. We know we have enemies in the Florida legislative bodies that would love to dismantle the program, so let’s not give them any ammunition.

Where I’d Like to Go

Frankly, I want to get off the path we’re on. Let’s stop attacking each other. Let’s stop the hatred and negativity. Let’s stop taking out our shitty life situations on people who are also going through shitty situations. Let’s help each other.

Think about it on a base level: we are all human, all thrown into this life with no idea of the true meaning of it all. We’re all sharing this rock that is hurtling through space, all sharing its limited resources, all sharing our life experiences with one another. We are united because we are all alive together, separated from the billions who came before us, and the trillions who will come after us. Why not try to make this trip as pleasant as possible for both ourselves and others?

I’m not perfect. I mess up. I get irritable and depressed, and sometimes, I’ve been known to lash out. But life is all about the marathon, and all of us can always continually improve in each area of our lives. We are beautifully unique, each with something wonderful to offer the progression of society and civilization on this planet. We need to be more open and honest with ourselves and each other. We all mess up. But the beauty of humanity lies in our resilience, and our ability to overcome adversity. We can do so much more when we do things together, with common goals, and with a basic understanding, respect, and empathy for one another.

Back to cannabis – another commonality that we all have, is our love for the cannabis plant and its medicinal properties. So let’s work together to help others make their lives better with it. Let’s quit being “weed snobs” that talk down on one another for our different choices in how we medicate or who we buy our medication from, and let’s start rejoicing in the fact that we have made enough progress to be living in the reality we are in: a reality where we can go to a dispensary, legally purchase our cannabis of choice, and go home to use it without ever worrying about our freedom or careers being put into jeopardy. Let’s unify in that and help spread that to others who need it.

Do you remember yourself before you found cannabis? There are likely millions more out there, just like we were, desperately searching for something to cure their ailments without side effects that are worse than the disease itself. Let’s shift our focus to being as helpful as possible to those people once they find their way into our community, and quit being focused on the wrong things. Life is about growth, so let’s grow together instead of tearing down one another.

I believe in us, and I believe that we all have the ability to create a more positive future for our community; I believe that we will all make that individual choice, and we will see the positive benefits of it in due time. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting its existence..

Hope you all have a wonderful evening full of health, wealth, and happiness. Thank you for reading this; I hope it helped you in some way.

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6 thoughts on “Florida Medical Cannabis Collective: T7|04: The Emerging Toxic Culture of FL Cannabis Social Media

  1. Thank you sir. You have always been a great help and I appreciate what you do for the medical cannabis community in Florida. Your comments in this article are spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not to discount problems with the community at large but a lot of this just sounds like the general deterioration of social media discourse. Trying to keep a community from losing focus or becoming toxic on reddit over a span of years in particular is a struggle regardless of the topic at hand. Group chats like discord or slack work much better in my experience.

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  3. I started my 2nd year in April and still find the sub useful for discovery and recommendations. Plus I don’t do flower so it’s easier to wade through all that.

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  4. I left the ‘FLMedicalTrees’ Reddit group about six months ago, in large part for the reasons you cited. A great but difficult post to read I think, but I remain hopeful for a more civil, medicinally valid discourse to resume at some point for our community.
    On another note, I’m interested to hear about your perspective on Trulieve and the troubles of late with supply and service in the Sunshine state…at least down South it seems we’re back to early days of low availability (and now coupled with exceptionally long wait times..!) Do you have any insight to share on the reasons for this by chance? Thanks once again for your blog and your contributions to the cannabis space, it is appreciated!

    Like

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