Instagram and its parent company Facebook have a long history of censoring cannabis-related content, and they are unwilling to back down, even as legalization spreads across the globe.
Many cannabis businesses have seen individual posts about weed get taken down, or received warnings about their account, but Instagram's self-policing of weed content has recently gotten even more aggressive. Over the past month, Instagram deleted at least three different Canadian legal weed retailers’ accounts, with no explanation and no opportunity to appeal the company's decision.
“It doesn’t make a huge impact on our business but it does hurt,” said Andrew Rhodes of The Neighborhood Joint, a Toronto adult-use store whose account was recently deleted, to Leafly. “We are a legal business following the rules and although we don’t rely on Instagram for anything specific, it is a great way to reach a certain demographic of the population.”
Ryan Roch, owner of Lakeburn Cannabis, a legal weed retailer in Alberta, said the same thing happened to him. “I can’t even appeal,” the store owner explained. “I found a random email form on Instagram and that’s been the only way to appeal it that I’ve found, but I haven’t heard back anything.”
Medical marijuana businesses have also experienced the same discrimination. Angelo Muscari said that Instagram deleted the account that he had set up for his Ontario medical cannabis dispensary, Hybrid Pharm. Again, the company provided no opportunity to contact them to appeal or even get information about the decision to delete the account.
Instagram's terms of service make it clear that all users are prohibited from selling or advertising cannabis products, regardless of state or federal legality. But the company's enforcement of these terms of service seems completely arbitrary. Some accounts for legal weed services in Canada and weed-legal US states have been shut down, but others are allowed to remain open. In some cases, black market weed dealers have even been allowed to quietly advertise their illegal wares on these platforms.
Muscari told Leafly that he suspects that account takedowns are driven by user complaints. The social media platform allows users to report content that violates the company's guidelines, and some users may be using this as a tool to rat out the competition or air their personal grievances.
“Honestly at this point, I do think that’s what happened,” said Muscari. “Somebody is just a little hurt or offended or just maybe not the biggest fan.”
Neither Facebook nor Instagram seems willing to back down on their anti-weed policies, even though pot is now legal in some form throughout Canada and most of the US. In lieu of a major policy change, weed companies are learning to rely less on social media and more on old-school methods of promoting their products.
“If anything, my tale is a cautionary one,” Roch told Leafly. “Everyone should be preparing to be taken down. Maybe that means having multiple accounts, making sure you have an email list of your customers, making sure you have other ways they can communicate with you, making sure you’re taking the time into those other channels and mediums.”