Blunt Q&A: Leafly's Bailey Rahn on Covering Cannabis Well
By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer
With over 15 million monthly visitors, Leafly is the biggest cannabis website in the world.
Bailey Rahn, an editor who oversees large swaths of their content, originally applied to cover their front desk. “I was like, ‘I just want to be a part of this,’ she remembers. “Then they said, ‘Would you be interested in writing medical resources and introductory tutorials?,’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, yes!’”
Best known for its exhaustively updated reviews of the rainbow of available weed strains, Leafly has steadily expanded since its 2010 founding, becoming a dispensary finder, an editorial hub, and a powerful marketing and e-commerce partner for cannabrands of all kinds.
Rahn came late to cannabis, becoming an avid advocate when some college dabbling opened her eyes to the plant’s bottomless healing potential. But with a strong background in health-focused research, she was a perfect fit to guide Leafly’s mission of becoming the go-to resource for weed knowledge on the web.
Now, five years in, Rahn has a strong influence on Leafly’s plans for growth. So we asked her about what Leafly loyals (and newbies) can expect moving forward, as well as the current state of elevated weed literacy in the U.S.A.
Leafly’s mission seems to providing an outlet for all available cannabis information. Is that why you joined? And how did you help shape that mission once you were hired?
When I came on there were only four of us [on the editorial team]. They were looking for someone who could develop some educational resources, and be able to answer questions about health benefits, health risks, things like that.
We had just started writing editorial, if you could call it that. We didn’t really have a vision yet -- we just knew that [informative journalism] was an area that we wanted to expand and explore.
From there, we really started developing a strategy towards, “What are the other questions that people are asking?” and really having an SEO-driven approach. That allowed us to address the questions of consumers of all types, not just medical patients or enthusiasts -- but also this huge new group of people who haven’t used it in many many years, or have never used it at all. Their questions were easily answered at that time by a Google search, so we just tried to fill that space, and be that sort of virtual friend who can tell you everything you need to know about [cannabis].
Which topics are the most sought out by readers? Is it most heavily influenced by whatever’s in the news that week?
Yeah, we saw tons of search interest in dabbing, for example, when that trend hit. We’ve seen a lot more interest in vape pens now. We see the informational and educational resource side fluctuate alongside trends. Also questions like, “How Long Does THC stay in your system?” that you would ask if you only just started smoking weed and just don’t know.
How does traffic to the site break down by section?
I think that we will always overwhelmingly be the strain resource. It’s kind of our SEO golden grail. But, it’s not like we have sort of a static encyclopedia --we’re constantly adding strains to it.
In recent years, we’ve put a lot more effort into showing people, “Hey, we can also help you find the right dispensary.” Not just telling you that it exists, but also connecting the reader to a place where they can find it.
I think it’s safe to say that average U.S. citizen knows more about cannabis now than they did 5 years ago. Do we still have a long way to go?
We’ve certainly seen a massive increase in the amount of research that’s done. Even though there are still political barriers, [such as] not being able to study it with federal funding, we still see a lot more private research going on. We’re understanding a lot more.
But the thing about cannabis is, with every question that you answer, it seems as if there are three more questions sprouting from that. The more that we understand each of these individual molecules and compounds the plant produces, it just kind of rabbit-holes into more and more questions about what it can do.
As far as the average consumer goes, at least more knowledge [is available]. But one of the most difficult things to do is to figure out how to translate all of this knowledge in layman’s terms, package it and deliver it to the average consumer. There’s almost too much information now. It’s overwhelming. That’s a unique challenge that we face every day.
Many people are getting their cannabis information at the ground level, from folks who work at point of sale for local dispensaries. Is there an industry standard for the kind of information they’re providing?
In the U.S., we don’t really see an across-the-board standard. You [may] get a bud tender that’s really knowledgeable, or you [may] get someone who’s just got a cool job. It’s kind of in their hands to educate themselves.
Some shops will create educational programs and materials for their employees, but as far as having regulations in place that say your bud tenders need to take this course and obtain this level of fluency with products? That’s totally on a store by store and individual basis.
I will say that whether you work at a dispensary or you work at a website, there are passionate people at every corner of this industry. Most people take people’s health to heart and really do try to make an honest recommendation. That’s what kind of separates cannabis from a lot of other industries. It’s entirely fueled by passion, sacrifice and risk.