It’s widely known across the cannabis industry that Instagram and Facebook are no strangers to deleting accounts. Many businesses, brands, and influencers have opened up the app just to find their profile no longer exists. One of the leading individuals in both the marketing and influencer areas of cannabis has recently had her account shut down multiple times. Bess ‘Cannabess‘ Byers had her profile removed from Instagram and she was able to get it back through a series of appeals just to see Instagram inform her it was deactivated by mistake. Within a week of gaining her account back, it appears to be deleted again.
While she has been operating a secondary account when her primary is out of commission, the marketing professional has taken to Instagram to call out the inconsistencies across their treatment towards other controlled substances. Bess is calling out to the platform to answer how users like Lil Peep (RIP) and others are able to showcase the use and abuse of prescription drugs yet legal cannabis businesses are being shut down for showing pictures of their facility.
My assumption is that pharmaceutical drugs are federally legal and there is a fine line between creative expression and promoting drug abuse. A major difference also lies in users like Lil Peep do not profit off the sales of pharmaceuticals and cannabis businesses do in fact profit from the products and services they are marketing. Upon removing the emotional attachment, there are reasons to see why one thing is allowed and another is not. The real issue lies in our countries perception of cannabis as a whole and it’s put forward-thinking platforms like Instagram and Facebook in a pickle. Even if they wanted to allow the content, there is red tape and financial sacrifices at every turn.
Why Are These Accounts Being Shut Down?
Even in states where cannabis is legally available for sale, Instagram has taken a hard stance against marketing the product on their platform. While many users tend to only look to their state ran cannabis regulations when considering advertising and often overlook the social media guidelines set forth by Instagram and Facebook.
During a phone call with Facebook and Instagram’s marketing department, I was told by an unnamed employee “while this industry is growing and there is obviously business potential, our guidelines are built around taking a neutral stance.”
While many industry personal view the polices as “anti-cannabis,” let’s take a look at how the platforms approach similar substances. While taking this look, one must remove their emotional attachment to the cannabis plant. Many of us believe cannabis has unmatched healing and medicinal properties and is a harmless substance that has yet to produce any sort of death toll. This is something we must push aside when looking at the big picture of illegal substances legal and fighting the mainstream taboo around cannabis use.
Instagram made an official announcement on their cannabis policy last year. They stated that while marijuana is not legal federally and a highly controlled substance in some states, they will not allow their platform to advertise or sell marijuana regardless of the seller’s state. Their policy strictly prohibits the sale of cannabis in any aspect. They also went on to mention that they will not allow contact information for these businesses. Instagram will, however, allow advocacy and promoting the federal legalization of cannabis as long as it does not promote the sale of cannabis itself or provides contact information.
What counts as “contact information?”
Your Phone Number
“Contact/DM/Email/Message Us For Info”
This means your business can NOT promote the sale or location of your business what so ever or you will be in direct violation of Instagram guidelines!
Looking At Cannabis Vs. Tobacco And Alcohol On Social Media
I cringe at comparing cannabis to alcohol or even tobacco, but we have to work with these parallels in terms of public opinion and fear of marketing to the youth.
Tobacco products are restricted from advertising and showcasing the use of products on these platforms and control far more dollars than anyone in cannabis. So one could propose the questions, “why would Instagram allow advertising for cannabis but not Tabacco?” Tobacco has been used on the American continents long before Europeans crash landed on Plymouth. Yet one can promote anti-smoking content but not the sale of any product. This includes hookah, e-cigs, and vaping.
When it comes to the majority of “sin taxes” the United States government seems to take the loosest stance on alcohol.
On the Federal Trade Commission’s Website, it’s stated that:
“The First Amendment provides substantial protections to speech, and thus substantially limits the government’s ability to regulate truthful, non-deceptive alcohol advertising based on concerns about underage appeal. For this reason, the Federal Trade Commission has long encouraged the alcohol industry to adopt and comply with self-regulatory standards to reduce the extent to which alcohol advertising targets teens, whether by placement or content. “
After reviewing cannabis and even tobacco restrictions, it seems the government is more or less okay with alcohol advertising as long as they’re not marketing to kids. Tobacco is the leading killer of preventable deaths in the US and alcohol ranks in at number three on the same list by the National Institue on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The biggest difference between alcohol and tobacco is tobacco must follow government controlled advertising regulations while the alcohol industry agrees on regulations as a whole and people don’t seem to step out of line. The tobacco industry held a similar power until that came crashing down with lawsuits for marketing to minors. Alcohol must still follow medium regulations for their advertising. TV, radio, and live events may have different regulations by location or medium as a whole.
Where Does Cannabis Fit?
Cannabis is not only federally illegal but illegal in numerous states. Looking at things from a big picture standpoint and removing the desire of cannabis legalization, it seems like a long shot for social media giants to back the political standing of the minority. If Instagram and Facebook update their terms of service to be more friendly to the legal weed industry, I know the final picture will look nothing like what most people will want.
Does Legal Cannabis Have The Ad Dollars For Instagram/Facebook To Care?
While cannabis businesses are “big money” they are simply a speck in the pond that is digital advertising dollars. There is no Toyota, NFL, or Nike, in cannabis in terms of available ad spend dollars. The top cannabis companies are nowhere near close to the ad spend volume of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier competitors to the fore mentioned brands. These established companies are looking to reach a wide user base that includes a wide range of audience that includes people that don’t want to see any cannabis advertising on the platform. It would seem as if Instagram doesn’t want #weedporn clogging up the timelines of parents and consumers in every market outside of cannabis. Mainstream success comes with the responsibility of tip-toe’ing around mainstream taboo.
Some companies have had great success in the space navigating the grey waters of what’s acceptable and how to go about pushing the limits. Many others with the legal cannabis space have felt defeated in the face of this generations largest companies but some have begun to fight back. Cannabess has launched a petition to ask Instagram to update their Terms Of Service to reflect the changing landscape of cannabis law. Check that out at the link below, sign if you support the movement and also be sure to leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts!
The cannabis industry is growing incredibly fast. In fact, it’s accelerating quicker than the Dot Com era. With new start-ups, self-made millionaires, and large-scale corporations and hedge funds are running into space like Usain Bolt, the growth doesn’t look like it will stop in the short term. While only 15 states still have marijuana listed as “illegal” a very small portion of the country is offering legal cannabis for sale. Once this number starts to triple and we move towards allowing interstate commerce, the funds within the industry will continue to exponentially skyrocket and we’ll see larger companies dive into the space.
While we’ve come so far and residents in state’s that allow recreational cannabis have been accustomed to the new normal, many of the population still retain a strong taboo on the substance. Along with the opinion of the masses, large-scale companies, government officials, and media platforms have remained detached from anything weed.