Tuesday February 9, 2016
Social Media & the War on Weed
In what may or may not be a connect set of events, Facebook and Instagram have recently begun shutting down the pages and accounts of legitimate (and often, licensed) marijuana businesses. The shut-downs began with a few New Jersey medical marijuana dispensaries and has spread across the states into many other legal territories, as well.
Mary’s Medicinals had their page shut down days before a major promotional event (the X-Games in Aspen) and lost thousands of followers in the process. Medicine Man (a dispensary from Denver, CO) recently had their Instagram shut down after John Mayer posted an image in one of their grow rooms. That one post was a catalyst for Medicine Man’s account which received thousands of new likes as a result of the celebrity’s shout-out. The sudden increase in activity drew the attention of the social platform, and the account was deleted without notice.
These are just two examples of companies who invested time and money in their social media strategies and promotions, only for them to go up in smoke over the course of a few days. Despite complete compliance of their page, accounts and overall business practices, they will have to start building their online communities again from scratch.
A Facebook spokesperson claims the shut-downs are an attempt to maintain community terms and standards, but these businesses were not acting against Facebook’s terms at all. In fact, Facebook only restricts advertising the sale of drugs from “unauthorized dealers” and restricts the sale of marijuana products through the site itself – neither of which any of these legal cannabis businesses are guilty of doing.
Although sites like Facebook state that promoting the legalization of marijuana is allowed, their strict guidelines and grey areas in their rules and regulations put too many cannabis companies in jeopardy if they choose to continue to post cannabis-related content.
The Online Black Market of Marijuana
Perhaps then the motivation to ban compliant cannabis businesses is more closely related to concerns surrounding illegal cannabis transactions.
In early January, CBS4 reported that local Colorado law enforcement officials had been using social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr to bust illegal cannabis distributors. According to the report, 26-year-old Sean Edelson was arrested after responding to a Facebook photo of a large cannabis grow with the caption “Getting close to peak!! Taking orders now!!” by stating that he is “the type of person that will take everything, every time.”
What Edelson didn’t realize was that this was not the post of an actual grower, but rather from an undercover Denver police officer who had created it (along with an elaborate back story complete with photos and other dummy posts) in an attempt to bust illegal cannabis buyers and distributors.
Some claim that this is a case of entrapment though its murky if this is the case. Yes, undercover agents lied about their intentions on a social media platform in order to bust someone, but Edelson willingly admitted that he often purchases large quantities of products, like marijuana. Because it is legal for police officers to lie if they are trying to stop illegal activity online (and because they didn’t force Edelson to purchase anything he wouldn’t otherwise purchase) the case for entrapment is going to be difficult to prove.
As this case proves, the black market is alive and well (even in legal states), and social media platforms have become a prime location for negotiating deals. The move is also on par with the recent banning of gun sales through Facebook implying that social media sites simply don’t want to take the risk. Being associated with the black market, after all, is a great way to get in hot water with the Feds and these multi-million dollar companies aren’t willing to take the heat for someone else’s snafu.
So Now What?
Social media stings are one of the latest ways authorities are attempting to bring down the black market in legal states. Unfortunately, they have also compromised the validity of legitimate cannabis businesses and brands who work hard to promote their brand without breaking the law. Cannabis-based businesses who have been compliant regarding the ever-changing regulations and restrictions of the industry are being punished for the illegal actions of a few.
All of this reaffirms the need for better nation-wide marijuana laws. There will always be a demand for marijuana and therefore will always be a market for it -- offline and online. As long as cannabis remains illegal in some parts of the nation, the online black market will thrive and companies will be forced to risk losing their social accounts by posting content to engage users and help push brand awareness.
If cannabis were legal, affordable and easy to access across the nation, the pull toward the black market would dwindle and legitimate cannabis businesses would be able to better engage with their fans online. Maybe then cannabis businesses would be free to thrive as bountifully as the plants they grow.
Do you think social media sites should restrict cannabis businesses, especially to reduce black market activity?
Photo Credit: PotGuide.com