08.19.10

Video-chat for Stoners

Parents beware! A new video-chat service bills itself as a safe place for users of medical marijuana to meet online and smoke (legally). Brian Ries gives it a try (legally) and finds out what’s really going on.

"Where da weed attt," my partner asked, staring out at me on webcam from an anonymous bedroom somewhere in the world.

She looked young, 18, maybe, and was drinking from a can of Yoo-hoo. Weedless, I took a sip of wine, hoping she would assume I was “cool,” and began typing.

Amanda, it would turn out, was from Austin, Texas. This was her second night videochatting on Seshroulette.com—a new site for marijuana users to smoke together on camera, randomly.

If the authorities do decide to come knocking, the site doesn’t make it terribly easy for them to follow the smoke.

Amanda’s older brother had introduced her to Seshroulette the night before and they had spent hours getting high with strangers. She had met some “funky people,” some teenagers, and decided it was different than smoking with real-life friends but that “that's what makes it more fun.”

It works like Chatroulette—the original randomized video-chatting service that made waves on the Internet earlier this year—except here users are paired with strangers to have face-to-face smoke sessions.

The site was created three months ago by Dan "Chill," 20, a Web developer and onetime Loyola Marymount University student from Playa Del Rey, California, who legally uses medical marijuana to cure the pain of morning intestinal cramps. He doesn’t get high, he says, just "pleasantly painless.”

The similarities to Chatroulette aren’t unintended. As that site grew in popularity, Dan saw an opportunity to create a place where smokers could meet and smoke in a safe environment—one free of the voyeurs and masturbators that plagued Chatroulette in its early iterations.

According to site rules, all users must be 18 or older and users may smoke only legally issued medicinal marijuana. Also, there are no acts of indecency allowed on Seshroulette, where the rules warn that transgressors “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“I am yet to see a penis on my site,” Dan told me. “And if I or one of my users does, I encourage them to contact me via the tools on the website to make sure we can get rid of them immediately.”

He used a clone script to “strike while the iron was hot” and launched Seshroulette nearly overnight. It got 1,200 pageviews the first night and has racked up more than 100,000 visitors to date, “which is big for a site with such a small-scale demographic.”

Video screenshot

When I first tried it out, there were just three potential partners for me to chat with. A few days later, there were seven. With a recently launched Facebook application and a frequently updated Tumblog that’s listed in Tumblr’s official directory, Dan’s busy.

One of his goals with the site is to prove that you can smoke marijuana and still be a productive, successful person. In fact, he wants to change the connotation of the word "stoner.”

But are the acts on Seshroulette legal?

Dan says he spoke with a prominent criminal-defense lawyer in California to find out, and was told “it was perfectly legal to smoke on camera if you're smoking the marijuana legally in the first place.”

This means it’s OK to smoke and stream from Playa Del Ray, where medicinal marijuana is permitted, but not from Austin, where users can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, resulting in 180 days in prison and/or a $2,000 fine, for possessing two ounces or less.

Still, even if the authorities do decide to come knocking, the site doesn’t make it terribly easy for them to follow the smoke: The site only tracks users at the city level to see where they are coming from, leaving them otherwise anonymous.

Asked if she was worried about the legality of smoking weed on live video, Amanda, my chatting partner, didn’t see any problem.

"Nah, no one will find out about it and, like, make a big deal out of it,” she said. “I mean I don't think that would happen."

"They say it’s anonymously tracked," I offered.

"Yeah," Amanda said, "and everyone loves weed :)"

The most negative reaction Dan has faced so far has come from HighDEAS.com, another “stoner website,” where users submit ideas and thoughts they had while high. It gets over 170,000 unique visits a month, according to Quantcast, and has secured both a book deal and a reality-show pilot with Comedy Central that’s being executive produced by Michael Davies’ Embassy Row.

One recent poster on the site, an alleged employee of McDonald's, wrote, "I work at McDonalds and its so great when the high people roll through the drive thru because I know I'm making they're day so much better by providing them with mountains of burgers, mcnuggets, and fries. The dollar menu was made for stoners."

Another, pondering the existence of roads, asked, "What the fuck are we gonna do bout all these roads when we get flying cars?"

When Dan first reached out to HighDEAS creator Nowfal Akash with a proposal to form a partnership, he received an email back with “a blatant NO.”

In it, Akash said that HighDEAS was working on its own video-chatting application and therefore wouldn’t need Seshroulette’s technology.

That same day, HighDEAS moderators began deleting user posts that linked to Seshroulette.

Seeing them disappear, Dan emailed back to “call him out on it.”

“He thought I was spamming,” Dan told me. “But I think that was an excuse.”

Akash told me whether it was Dan or anyone else posting the link-based ads, they qualified as spam under the site’s terms and conditions. Plus, he said, the two sites just weren’t comparable.

“We’re up here and they’re down there,” said Akash. “We’re more of an original idea, that’s just a Chatroulette clone.”

When Dan later created a site that copies HighDEAS’ format to provoke them for deleting the posts, Akash wasn’t amused.

He sent Dan an email threatening legal action if he didn’t back off, and so Dan did.

At the end of the day, Akash says, he feels just fine about Seshroulette, with one condition.

"Just don't troll around my site, it's that simple," he said.

Back on Seshroulette, it’s a little after 4:20 p.m. on a Thursday and I’m surfing from cam to cam. In total, there are 12 users logged on. Each time I refresh, there’s another fresh-faced kid, looking on in anticipation as my camera activates.

There are the two teenage-looking boys playing Xbox, dancing in place, passing around a decent-size joint. I click “Next Sesh.” There’s the twentysomething girl in a cowboy hat, sitting at her desk straightening the camera, smiling. “Next Sesh.” There’s the kid staring out from my screen, his chin resting on his fist, as a tie-dye poster hangs on a closet door in the background. “Next Sesh.”

There’s no way to tell whether these people are actual licensed medical-marijuana users in search of a support network. Probably they’re exactly what they look like: young people, just sitting at home and looking for some funky people to smoke with.

Brian Ries is a Philly-born senior editor at FREEwilliamsburg.com and tech and social media editor at The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn.