One year ago, Chloe Lebbate and Dakota Shyface were single marijuana users in their 20s, living in Las Vegas and looking for "something." But love, friendship and connections evaded them on mainstream social networks like Tinder and Match, they said, because the sites failed to weed out people who disapproved of their marijuana use.
"I had given up on dating apps," Lebbate said. "I couldn't find anyone who also smoked weed. It's something that's part of me. I use medical marijuana for health ailments, and a lot of people aren't cool with that."
Then High There came along. The two-year-old app, a sort of Tinder for tokers, is the largest of several burgeoning platforms geared toward matchmaking within the cannabis community.
Others include My420Mate and 420 Singles. Like other dating sites, each offers something different from the others, like weed-friendly meetup events or multiplayer in-app games. Each app's goal is to provide a community where cannabis users can meet like-minded enthusiasts without having to worry about the stigma associated with pot.
"I remember swiping (through Tinder), and I'd say 50% of profiles said 'no smoking,'" said Shyface, who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes. He said he spent nearly two months on High There before he met Labbate. "I intially signed up to find friends. I found a few, but then I found Chloe."
Labbate and Shyface met in person several days after meeting on the app. Three months later, they were engaged, and are planning a wedding next year.
So what's a first date for High There users like?
"I brought over some Blue Dream, a classic cannabis strain," said Shyface. The two filmed a video for Labbate's YouTube channel, and in the process, discovered they had more in common. "Veganism, spirituality and marijuana, those are each of our top three interests. We clicked instantly."
Matthew Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors, provides independent research and financial analysis on the cannabis industry. He said the increasing popularity of these apps makes sense given the wider-spread use of marijuana, as legalization for both medicinal and recreational use expands. The platforms create a safe place for those who are new or apprehensive about the plant.
"People are somewhat reluctant to reveal they're cannabis users when they're dating," Karnes said. "It might be a turn-off. Most dating apps have you check a box -- whether you drink or smoke (cigarettes), those are the two categories. At some point, they'll gravitate towards cannabis use."
Since the 2016 election, when states such as California, Massachusetts, Florida, Maine and Nevada adopted new marijuana legalization laws, 95% of the US population lives in a state where cannabis is legal in some form, according to analytics firm New Frontier Data. The overall cannabis market in the United States is expected to exceed $20.9 billion by 2020.
Since its inception, High There has grown to nearly 500,000 users globally, both in locations where marijuana is legal and places where it remains illegal. The highest usage areas in the United States are California, New York and Colorado, according to founder and CEO Darren Roberts.
A large number of High There users are between the ages of 22 and 40. "We have a significant amount of members who are older, whether they are veterans (battling PTSD) or individuals who are looking for people to meet and share experiences on the medicinal side," Roberts said.
Roberts said there is substance to the cannabis community that may be misunderstood. One of the first user profiles established was from a woman who had terminal cancer, who turned to cannabis for pain relief, he said. The woman wanted to share her experiences from dealing with her illness and offer others suggestions on the medicinal benefits of the drug.
"That's when we really knew we were providing something valuable," Roberts said. "It's fun. People can date, smoke and meet, and get married. But there are significant friendships established as well."
As for Labbate and Shyface, the couple plans to move to Oregon, and intends to expand their social circle using High There. "This is going to be one of our main ways to find friends," Labbate said. "On our first meeting, (Dakota) and I made food together and smoked. It was fun to bond that way so quickly. It was like 'where have you been?'"