Oct. XX, 2010 -- Little Mary Jane is getting all grown up -- online at least.
If you do a Google search for "marijuana" or any of its more colloquial cousins, you' find a smorgasbord of websites so green and cannabis-covered you might feel high after just one look.
But as state medical marijuana laws push pot closer to Main Street, a few websites are starting to give pot an updated, more understated image aimed at mainstream pot lovers outside the prototypical stoner demographic.
"Pepper" and "Margot," two twenty-something New York women, launched the "high style" site PotCouture.com under their chosen pseudonyms after noticing a dearth of female-friendly weed websites.
"The site is designed for women, but I think what we're really looking for is to convey the normalcy of this," said Margot, noting that a lot of marijuana-friendly sites pair pot-friendly content with a healthy dose of scantily clad females. "Most of the people that we know smoke pot. Everyone is doing this and not everyone wants to look at naked women covered with bud porn."
She said the "man sites" are a great fit for their chosen demographic, but they're missing a big opportunity.
"There are so many more people who are smoking who have, well, without sounding too snarky, taste," she said.
Surveys indicate about 75 percent of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana, and as more TV shows like Showtime's "Weeds" enter popular culture marijuana is starting to move up in the American zeitgeist, according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Though still illegal in most places, St. Pierre said one group willing to stick their heads out and test the waters of public acceptance are entrepreneurs.
"Entrepreneurs are breaking out from that pack," he said. "Entrepreneurs recognize needs and almost always entails risk -- sometimes capital, sometimes stature [sometimes] personal liberty."
Recognizing the opportunity among closeted cannabis lovers, Margot and Pepper said they wanted to give more professional smokers a more professional haven online.
Visit PotCouture.com and you'll see a site so clean and classy you might mistake it for a style blog at first glance. Each post is weed-related, but, with stories about "lady stoners" alongside pot-inspired art and politics, the site's sensibility is decidedly more cocktail casual than frat party pedestrian.
"We really wanted to bring marijuana out of its ugly subculture that it's currently in," said Pepper. "Mainstream America will never be able to get behind it if they always see it as this nasty gateway drug."
The pair, who hold down day jobs in publishing and technology, launched the site in July. Through mostly word of mouth, PotCouture.com attracts a couple thousand visitors a month, they said, and already they're pursuing partnerships to create a line of similarly-tasteful pipes or write a book.
Pot Sites Garner Mainstream Traffic
The founders of Leaf.ly.com, an online directory of reviews about various strains of marijuana, hope to attract a mainstream clientele with a similarly clean aesthetic.
Scott, a 29-year-old from Orange County, Calif., (who asked to withhold his last name because of his day job as a Web developer) launched the site with two friends this summer.
He said he has a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana, but whenever he visited the dispensary he could never remember which of the many types of marijuana would work best for him.
"There was a huge range of things to choose from," he said. "I just started tracking them on a spreadsheet for my personal use, and then I started fleshing out this idea with myself and two friends."
The goal of the site is to help marijuana smokers keep track of the strains of marijuana they like most and are most suitable for their needs. The site includes anonymous reviews for more than 150 strains of marijuana -- grouped by effects (creativity, giggly, sleepy, etc.), medical use (anxiety, migraines, stress, etc.) and activity (create art, relax, play video games, etc.) -- and visitors can add strains if a specific strain isn't yet listed.
But if you opened up Leaf.ly at work and your boss happened to walk by, it's likely he'd never even notice the site's somewhat controversial content.
"We make a conscious effort not to have any pot leaves on the site or anything like that that would give you away. The goal is to be safe for work," he said. "It's not going to be painfully obvious what you're looking at."
Scott said he kept reading articles about "the subculture to the pot culture" -- professionals and soccer moms who light up a joint instead of pouring a glass of wine -- and thought they might be able to build a business around their needs.
"I don't know if it's acceptable right now, but more people are doing it and kind of in the closet about it -- that's really our target audience," he said. He said he's currently bootstrapping now but has plans to build out a business model involving partnerships with dispensaries.
Another upstart website, PriceofWeed.com, also employs a user-friendly design to reach beyond the stereotypical smokers.
Started by Cory, a 23-year-old from Toronto and his friend (they also asked to withhold their last names), the site anonymously crowd-sources the street value of marijuana to give people a sense of how much pot should cost in different places around the world.
"We develop websites as a hobby and creative thing. We do start-ups," said Cory. "This was just born out of a curiosity, more out of solving a personal question than to make money."
He said the simple, non-weed-heavy design was inspired by Leaf.ly.
Soon after launching, his site made its way through the Internet, landing on the media site Gawker, New York Magazine's site and others. At its peak, it received about 25,000 visitors in one day.
PriceofWeed combines user-submitted data about the price of weed per ounce (sorted by quality) and an interactive, searchable Google Map. To keep the prices accurate, Cory said the site throws out outliers -- potentially fake prices that are statistically outside the average. It shows, for example, that an ounce of high-quality weed is $447.35 in New York, versus $415 in North Dakota.
Pot Sites a Positioned to
NORML's St. Pierre said the new kinds of websites speak to the normalization of marijuana.
"Sociologists would say over a certain period of time, something that was 'deviant behavior,' over time, depending on the changing mores and value of the society, tends to take something that was thought of as being on the outside and [moves] inside, otherwise known as mainstream," he said.
He said that about 45 percent of Americans currently support the notion of marijuana legalization, but that according to statistician Nate Silver, by 2020 or 2021 that figure will rise to 60 percent, a number high enough to potentially make a political impact.
Given a recent FBI report that more than 855,000 marijuana-related arrests were made last year, he said, it makes sense that the average middle class American isn't piping up too loudly to legalize marijuana. The government can take away children, student loans, assets and more after marijuana charges, he said.
There still may be a stigma attached to marijuana, but given the First Amendment, St. Pierre said, the legal risks of starting pot-related web ventures are fairly low. And as more states adopt medical marijuana laws and momentum grows in favor of legalization, those early entrepreneurs may be in the best spot to ultimately cash in.
"Entrepreneurs not only recognize these markets, which in some ways are self-evident,they have the technical savvy and the entrepreneurial skills to take these risks," he said. "For business folks, those who are up front right now are really at the vanguard. ... At some point, they're going to be in the very best position to be snatched up by some major brand... or stand alone as a best of breed."