Facebook FB -0.47% can’t decide where it stands on cannabis.
The Facebook logo (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
On the one hand, it says it doesn’t want to promote drug use and bans what it believes is content that approves of marijuana use, like pictures of people smoking pot. On the other hand, it sometimes allow cannabis-related companies to promote their businesses. Then Facebook reverses course and censors journalism about cannabis.
The logic that a story about legalization of marijuana or scientific studies on cannabis-related medicine is promoting cannabis is completely ridiculous. A story about war doesn’t promote war nor does a story about wine entice readers to go get drunk. Facebook didn’t respond to a request for clarification on its policy towards marijuana.
“Facebook doesn’t have any written rules,” said Isaac Dietrich of social media website Mass Roots. “So we’re flying in the dark with arbitrary rules that are enforced at the whim of people.” Mass Roots is actually a separate social media site for cannabis friendly businesses and people, but it recognizes the power of Facebook and that is why they are trying to maintain a presence there and has hosted Facebook live events.
“We’re one step removed from the plant, but our Instagram page has been suspended five times this fall. We got it back after we defended ourselves,” said Dietrich. The business has also had some videos deleted by Facebook. He’s also not happy with the discrepancies over who Facebook does approve.
“They verified Weedmaps and gave them a competitive advantage because they were officially accepted,” he said. Weedmaps is a website and app that helps people locate dispensaries and gives reviews. Dietrich isn’t bitter, he knows the dispensaries have a harder time and ultimately, the problems with Facebook just gives Mass Roots more users.
Dispensaries in particular bear the brunt of Facebook’s censorship. Medicine Man, the largest dispensary in Denver, where marijuana is legal said, “Yes, we have had our social media accounts shut down a number of times.”
Flowhub, a point-of-sale software company for cannabis-related businesses hasn’t had any problems, said CEO Kyle Sherman, “Although I’ve heard of several issues in the cannabis industry related to social media accounts. … I can only assume we haven’t run into any hiccups because we simply don’t ‘touch’ the plant.” Sherman is quick to add that it could occur in the future and believes that it’s mostly businesses that actively advertise marijuana sales that are singled out and targeted.
Marijuana publication High Times has been allowed to operate on Facebook and Instagram, but that doesn’t mean it is completely happy with its treatment from Facebook. Larry Linietsky, the Chief Operating Officer of the magazine, said, “We have continued to be perplexed by the treatment of cannabis and cannabis events by Facebook.” He said their news reporting has been age-gated and that similar articles by more mainstream media don’t get the same restrictions. “It’s not an even playing field and that’s not fair,” he said. Age-gated means the reader must attest to being a certain age before getting access to the story.
Facebook though has declined to allow stories from Forbes by this writer, so it isn’t just High Times that is subjected to this arbitrary system of what is and isn’t allowed.
A representative of CalCann Holdings, a Southern California cannabis portfolio company, said, “We’ve had out account shut down for marijuana related material. We also just had our 3,500 follower Instagram account erased.” CalCann identifies real estate properties that would be appropriate for a marijuana business. It emphatically states on its website, “CalCann is not a cannabis operator. It neither owns, nor does it intend to own a financial interest in a cannabis business.” Yet, that isn’t enough to satisfy Facebook.
Media and cannabis have long had a difficult relationship. It was William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers that originated the campaign against marijuana in an effort to sell papers with over-dramatized accounts of marijuana use during the 1920′s and 1930′s.
High Times Linietsky summed it up best: “We are hopeful that the progressive minds (and anecdotally, pot loving) tech geniuses at Facebook will relax their stance on cannabis. But for now, legitimate cannabis businesses have one hand tied behind our backs.”