Dave Warden self-medicates on L.A. pot show "The Weed Report." (Credit: YouTube.com)
By the time we began the interview, Bong Rip had absorbed quite a bit of THC.
I’d been watching the 30-year-old host of "BongTV," a live Internet show that features Mr. Rip traveling around the Southland in his ’88 Rolls Royce limo, rapping with guests and friends — and smoking more pot than I thought was possible. On screen, he’d made short work of four big joints, demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly why his name is Bong Rip and otherwise had not gone three minutes without a quick lung full from his glass pipe.
I was surprised he could maintain consciousness, let alone speak. But this is what he does every day — live, on the Internet — from 4:20 p.m. to 4:20 a.m.
Bong Rip of Bong TV Live.
Image courtesy Bong Rip.
"It’s like a virtual party, right in your computer," he told me with impressive coherence. "I have over 100 people watching that I take with me in my limousine — they don’t make a mess, they don’t cause any trouble and they don’t smoke my weed."
"BongTV" has a small but dedicated following — Bong Rip calls them the Stoner Army. People watch the show on multi-way video chat services Stickam.com and UserPlane.com. Because it’s live, viewers get to chat, joke and toke with Bong Rip in real time. But a warning to those easily offended: This show exists only because there are no ratings on the Internet.
Die-hard fans are awarded ranks by Gen. Rip for being loyal, reading about marijuana legalization and helping him advertise his show around the Web. You can ascend from private to captain, be named senator or governor (OK, those two are not military ranks, but, geez, don’t kill Bong’s buzz!), and if you really impress him, he’ll make you a major.
Whenever Bong decides it’s time to light up, he calls out "420 in the chat room if you’re smoking!" Within moments, dozens of viewers have eagerly chimed in. "420!" they type — and they’re not just posturing — among the 10 or 20 viewers that are running their own webcams, a healthy number can be seen reaching for an implement and joining right in.
Once a largely invisible subculture, the pot community has harnessed online video and social networking to "come out of the grow closet" and into the open. Not to be left out of the Web 2.0 movement, like-minded users (that’s "users" in both senses) are taking advantage of the Internet to connect and socialize semi-anonymously, and from a distance.
"These are people who are really looking for a venue to express how much they love it, or love growing it or just like having it around," said Dave Warden, who hosts "The Weed Report," an online video magazine on which Warden visits Los Angeles dispensaries, glass galleries and his own home, reviewing oddly named strains of cannabis along the way. The snappily edited show is entertaining and even contains some pretty funny sketches by Warden, who was formerly the Gadget Guy on the DIY Network’s "Lawn Care Workshop" and has several Hollywood directing and producing credits to his name.
"The Weed Report" routinely scores tens of thousands of views on YouTube and other sites and even has its own bong-making company as a sponsor. The show’s modest success spurred Warden to create a kind of pot video social network, in which aficionados from several countries have uploaded 125 pot-related videos of various levels of sophistication (read: Most are nothing more interesting than people getting high).
Many of the videos on theweedreport.com come from Canada, where the legal climate is considerably more relaxed. "If there was a marijuana video war, the Canadians would be winning," Warden said. Warden pointed to online pot-smoking shows like "Chronic604" (where a bunch of guys smoke in different places), "Baked in BC" (where a bunch of pretty girls do) and Pot TV, the leading online cannabis network.
Pot TV is a large repository of videos, including serial shows, pot documentaries and snippets of "real" TV segments on legalization and politics. The site is run by Greg "Marijuana Man" Williams and produced by Mark Emery, the publisher of Canada’s Cannabis Culture magazine and one of the pot world’s most celebrated and notorious figures. Emery, Williams and colleague Michelle Rainey were arrested in 2005 on drug trafficking and money laundering charges related to their online seed-selling business. The case has become a rallying point in the pot world since the trio was arrested in Canada for allegedly breaking U.S. law. They’re awaiting extradition hearings.
Williams, who hosts "The Grow Show" on Pot TV, agreed that the Web has been a watershed for pot culture. "The revolution may not be televised," he quipped, "but it is alive and kicking on YouTube.
"People do this because they know what they are doing is not really going to hurt them or anyone who might follow their lead. If you have a law that needs constant enforcement and it is openly defied, it is a pretty good indication that the people do not want that law."
Speaking of laws, one might wonder how illegal it is to post videos of oneself smoking pot — with or without a California prescription, which Warden and Bong Rip say they have.
Well, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Los Angeles Police Department agree that, barring obviously felonious activity like dealing or possession of large amounts, this kind of stuff is small potatoes.
"If it’s just a person smoking marijuana in a residential-looking environment, there’s really no law violation there," said LAPD Sgt. Kevin Kurzhals of the narcotics division. "We legally couldn’t just break down the door and do anything."
Special Agent Sarah Pullen of the DEA offered a similar statement. "The DEA’s focus is to pursue those traffickers that have the biggest impact. We typically don’t go after that level of user."
So it appears that our pot video stars are safe for now, which is a good thing for Bong Rip, who seems almost more addicted to broadcasting himself to the Stoner Army than he is to any banned substance. As my interview with Bong concluded, he offered me an unexpected bonus.
"What’s your first name again, man?"
"David ..... "
"Dave, you are now officially a major in the Stoner Army as recognized by Bong Rip and the Stoner Army worldwide."
Major Dave ..... I could get used to that.