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How Facebook And Instagram Are Waging A 'War On Weed'

Much of the momentum behind the sophisticated shift in cannabis culture has had to do with social media: like-minded users can share news and info, and companies can buy ads for products and businesses.

But how cannabis businesses and activists can use Facebook and Instagram is still murky territory, even in 2015. According to Facebook's Advertising Guidelines, ads can't promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs, including "tobacco products and related paraphernalia." Facebook also "reserve[s] the right to reject, approve or remove any ad for any reason, in our sole discretion."

It's the "in-our-sole-discretion" part that's reportedly causing issues for activists like Mike Robinson, who has complained publicly about Facebook's decision to shutter his page featuring testimonials from medical marijuana patients. According to Robinson, his page was deleted without warning after he posted about using cannabis to treat epilepsy.

"The whole blah blah about community standards," writes Robinson, "is nothing more than hot air to make it appear that the network is protecting the user [...] In fact they do nothing more than protect their income from advertising revenues from opponents of legalization."

While Robinson's story appears legit, the false rumours circulating about Facebook's policies isn't helping clarify the situation, either.

Activists are complaining about Instagram and Facebook

Instagram, too, has been accused of arbitrarily enforcing policies on cannabis-related content. The Community Guidelines prohibit posts related to buying/selling drugs - even if they're legal where you live - or promoting recreational drug use.

Instagram tried to ban the hashtag #weed in 2013; today, however, a search for the hashtag brings up almost 9 million posts. Still, people who really want to post cannabis-related images have fled in large numbers to sites like MassRoots.

The CannaLaw Blog has decried the hypocrisy of admins who delete/censor pro-marijuana content, "Where individuals are merely advocating for marijuana legalization [...] or simply explaining why they enjoy marijuana or what it takes to operate a marijuana business legally in various states, they should not be subject to bans and restrictions."

Others have gone as far as to say apps like Instagram are waging a war on weed, especially when in relation to deleting the accounts of legal dispensaries.

Cannabis businesses find ways around the rules

For now, it seems like what posts businesses can boost depends largely on how well they can dance around drug terminology, their number of followers, the types of images used, and other, largely unpredictable factors.

A more streamlined process is, however, probably inevitable. As The Ganjier puts it, "social media companies are run by corporations. They need corporate protection and tangling with the feds about a Schedule 1 drug is not a task to be taken on lightly. But as the federal dialogue changes and the common sense of cannabis seeps into more states, cannabis and social media will reconcile."

"We don't get everything we want all at once. That's why we persist."

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