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It seemed like the rules to the game were clear: Instagram does not allow the sale or promotion of drugs (even, in many cases, federally legal ones.) But as various publications have reported recently, IG has gotten censure-happy when it comes to cannabis-related profiles — even blocking pages that focus on cannabis education, and don’t sell bud at all.
Frustratingly, the motivations behind such actions are rarely transparent. All too often, brands find themselves in the position of United States cannabis equity platform Cannaclusive, which had its Instagram account suspended in June for several days with no explanation. On June 25th, cannabis business news site MJ Biz Daily saw its Instagram profile temporarily suspended.
And the problem is hardly limited to the US.
Last year, Instagram closed the Amsterdam-based seed bank Sensi Seeds' account, despite cannabis being decriminalized in the Netherlands since 1976. Instagram has also banned Canadian medical cannabis accounts, even while medical cannabis was federally legal in Canada.
The problem persists just south of the US border, as well. Mexico City visual artist Isabella.420 a.k.a. Blanca Isabel started her cannabis educational platform Malas Costumbres in 2020. She says the platform’s Instagram profile had 18,000 followers when in July, she made a reel talking about the importance of putting a filter on your bong to care for your lungs.
On July 12, Instagram shut the account down for violating community norms. The matter was resolved quickly after she contacted the site, but it happened again and again for a total of four times in a month. Isabella.420 says she learned from communications sent to her by the platform that the first two times the page was flagged by a user, and that the last two times the algorithm had detected a violation in the page’s content.
She was not alone. Various Mexican cannabis brands experienced the suspension or closure of their Instagram pages around the same time. Isabella.420 joined other cannabis industry workers for an August 8th panel focused on finding ways to break cannabis businesses’ dependence on mercurial social media sites. (I also devoted an episode of my Spanish language Mexico City web radio show Crónica to the issue this month.)
Medical cannabis has been legal in Mexico since 2017, though regulations for the industry were not released until January 2021. In 2019, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional. After waiting for years for the government to pass regulations for recreational cultivation, sales, and possession, that high court outlawed the absolute prohibition of personal cultivation and consumption, creating a legal grey area in which Mexicans can petition the federal health agency for permits to grow and toke under limited circumstances. In 2019, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional, and required the government to pass regulations for recreational cultivation, sales, and possession.
Isabella.420 eventually gave up fighting the wave of censorship, figuring that Malas Costumbres had been flagged as a problematic Instagram profile and would never be sustainable again. She’s focusing on the platform’s website, and started an Instagram page dedicated to her drawings. Stoner imagery does pop up — but she won't be addressing consumption directly on the page.
"People have told me they use these images to explain things to their parents, or caused them to reflect on their own problematic consumption, from a post I did about the red flags [of cannabis addiction]," Isabella.420 told MERRY JANE. "It's not that I am the expert on this — I'm learning alongside everyone else, it's really a community. And this situation is sad, because now we have nowhere to talk about these issues."
“I wasn’t using my account to sell marijuana," she says, frustrated. "I only sell my illustrations, and sadly, right now I can't even sell those because I have no community engagement."
If your cannabis-related Instagram profile has been censored, there are some steps that you can take. Check this guide by British marketing expert Colin Bambury to getting your account back.