Social media massacre: Marijuana businesses scrambling as Facebook, Instagram shutter accounts

cannabis facebook instagram

By John Schroyer

The marijuana industry is facing a growing challenge on the social media front, and there’s no resolution in sight.

Both Facebook and Instagram are closing marijuana-related business accounts without warning and seemingly at random, cutting off key connections companies have with their customers. 

And the two social media giants are not just targeting retailers and businesses that touch the plant: Companies that provide services to the industry and those that focus on marijuana consumers have been caught up in the crackdown, too.

All told, at least 100 marijuana companies have been affected over the past month – and possibly much more than that, according to various estimates.

Cannabis businesses are now scrambling to figure out what will put them at risk of losing their accounts, and many are developing contingency plans in case they are targeted.

“It’s a huge problem because we use that account to showcase businesses as well as to organize followers,” said Isaac Dietrich, co-founder and CEO of the cannabis-centric social media site MassRoots, which lost its Instagram account last month. (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

Although Dietrich has since started a new account for MassRoots, he lost several years’ worth of photos and followers.

“By losing access to that account, that’s prohibiting us from contacting those 300,000 followers” that MassRoots previously had on Instagram, Dietrich said. “We’ve reached out to Instagram multiple times, and they have not been returning our calls.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said in an email to Marijuana Business Daily that the company doesn’t permit any content that “promotes the sale of marijuana regardless of state or country. This includes marijuana dispensaries.” Non-promotional marijuana-related content, however, is allowed.

But the spokeswoman didn’t have any figures regarding how many cannabis-related accounts have been closed. Dietrich said he’s heard of about 100 accounts that have been shuttered, though the overall total is likely significantly higher.

Arizona-based consultant Sara Gullickson estimated she’s heard of about 50 dispensary Facebook pages alone being closed down in at least eight states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington State (and that doesn’t include recreational retailers).

The closures seem somewhat random, as most companies haven’t been affected. No one knows exactly why certain businesses are being targeted – or who is next.

In many cases, one company has been affected but its competitors have not.

And in some cases, a business has had one of its accounts shut down but not others. For example, the well-known Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, is nowhere to be seen on Facebook, but a page for its Portland, Oregon, dispensary is still up. Its main Facebook page, along with its Instagram account, were originally closed over a year ago, on Jan. 15, 2015. The company re-started accounts on both platforms, however, and built its online following back up over the past year.

“I think the policy is set at a high level, but actual enforcement of the policy is left up to the ground troops, but what that does is it creates an unequal playing field,” Dietrich said. “Weedmaps also had their Instagram account shut down, but Leafly still has theirs and so far, they’ve been left unaffected.”

So how are companies responding?

Some have simply started new Facebook or Instagram accounts with slightly different names. Others are circulating online petitions (such as this one and this one) calling on Facebook to change its policy.

A dispensary in New Jersey, Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center, was able to get its Facebook page restored recently after editing it and filing an appeal, but an executive with the dispensary said he’s still not certain why the page was taken down in the first place.

“We went ahead and edited our site and re-submitted it with an appeal, and we got put back on,” said Michael Nelson, the general manager of Compassionate Sciences. “The only thing we did to change the site was we took off all photographs and all reference to pricing, and we never got a confirmation as to whether one of those items or both were what they cared about. That was our kind of stab in the dark as to what may have bothered them.”

Consultant Gullickson advised following a similar strategy.

“Make sure you’re not promoting any sales, take down pictures of flower, take ‘dispensary’ out of the title of the page. That seems to have worked for a couple of our groups,” Gullickson said. “For companies, if their pages are shut down, it’s best to be vocal” and file a complaint or appeal.

But it’s not necessarily clear that this will work with Instagram, in particular because it has closed accounts of companies that don’t even handle marijuana, such as MassRoots.

“They don’t even sell cannabis,” said a Denver-area marijuana businessman who asked to remain anonymous, but confirmed he had lost his Instagram and Facebook accounts as well. “They’re not licensed in any way. All they’re doing is sharing pictures of other peoples’ cannabis experiences.”

Colorado-based Dixie Brands – which produces edibles – is another company that doesn’t fit within the retail mold. Most of its social media posts have more to do with industry news than deals for consumers, said Joe Hodas, the company’s chief marketing officer. And yet it lost its Instagram account a few weeks ago, and on Friday, its Facebook page was closed.

“I didn’t feel like we were violating any terms and conditions,” Hodas said. “If there was something we could have changed, we would have done so.”

There may be a upside for some companies that can fill the void, though. Businesses that have had their accounts closed are increasingly gravitating towards social media sites focused solely on cannabis users, such as MassRoots.

“We’re going to encourage others in the industry to just embrace MassRoots,” said Dixie’s Hodas. “Let’s go where we’re wanted.”

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

Correction: This story originally reported that Harborside Health Center’s Facebook and Instagram accounts were taken down in January 2015, but failed to note that the dispensary re-started both accounts after they were shuttered.

16 comments on “Social media massacre: Marijuana businesses scrambling as Facebook, Instagram shutter accounts
  1. DG on

    Companies in this ‘niche industry must secure their online brand presence with a strong [dot] com domain name to avoid any control / limitations from social media giants.

    • Alexa Divett on

      This is so true. If cannabusiness owners are putting all of their marketing eggs in a basket they do not own such as FB or IG they are at risk of losing all of their content. Instead, business owners should focus on channels they do own such as their content (their blog and website) and their email marketing channels (their newsletter list).

  2. Bob the grower on

    it’s donkey moves like this that can ruin a social giant.

    In most polls well over half are pro-cannabis, this is not the time to bash cannabis, look what happened to NJ’s Gov after he bashed pot at the debate!

    If facebook wanted to do something for the moral majority how about shutting down terror activity? Seems terrorist are able to communicate just fine but ‘damn the potheads’

    Here’s a thought, does Facebook agree with the first amendment or only when it suits their emotions?

    You see, cannabis hatred is an emotion, when you understand the truth about cannabis and the relationship with the human body you can no longer hate it.

    After emotion is removed all there is left is logic.

    Science has proven that cannabis is harmless and the medical benefits and legendary.

    People, businesses and social platforms that take up a strong haters opinion about cannabis will fail, the public is ‘smarter’ now and can find out the truth within seconds.

  3. Stephen on

    The reason Facebook is shutting these pages down is because they violated the one, unbreakable rule Facebook has: NEVER mention the price of marijuana or marijuana products under any circumstances on Facebook. When I post on Facebook for my customers (dispensaries, consultants, etc) there is never a mention of how much anything costs. Ask blogger Steve Elliot. He was shut down several times simply for sharing a newspaper article about the price of cannabis around the country.

    • Jonezen on

      Stephen, FB is shutting them down because, as the corporation that owns the platform, they can. There is no clear rule, written, anywhere. FB is a fiefdom where free speech rules don’t truly apply, because they are subservient to the wishes of bigger advertisers. In the not too distant future, once legalization is in the rear window, or market penetration of the user base has reached a specific threshold as determined by algorithms, at that point, when the stars of social acceptability and profitability are in alignment, FB will be lining up for their business along with everyone else. And at that time, I hope that cannabis businesses will recall FB’s and Instagram’s shutting them down today for having posted pictures of flowers.

  4. Nate on

    in socal, we’ve seen glass-blowers have their accounts closed, as well as testing labs (IG got us about 2 months ago). this is a somewhat random, systematic, [evil] management of a system, and has nothing to do with sales of cannabis or pricing; it simply has to do with hating on cannabis.

    i agree with the solution of going where we’re wanted. i’ve never used the massroots system, but if the entire industry made a combined effort to migrate as a whole to another platform, we could make a helluva statement about our internal organization, and take some wind out of the proverbial sales of cannabis-haters.

    i’ll leave you guys with one last thought – “snoop dogg” has millions of followers, and has not been quiet about promoting lines of products through his social media accounts. why have they looked the other way with cases like this? i think we all know the answer, but it’s interested nevertheless.

  5. Keith Mansur on

    You are right on, I think. Also, if people “complain” or “report” your site, you will get looked at closely! I think competitors are doing it to shut down other dispensaries….sneaky tactics, but effective!

  6. Mark on

    It is time for people to wake up and realize that your incessant dependency in both personal and professional realms with these sites fuels there thankless value proposition,,,,time to rebel against there misjudgments and take them down,,,,in whatever manner you think is appropriate (boycotts, cyber disruptions etc…)

  7. Kimb on

    As a patient, I find it very simple. I consider my dispensary an invaluable part of a real life community of caregivers..ya know, those who honestly care? Facebook, I can delete my acct and not think twice as I can easily look up all the info I need w/ out them. Go ahead and make my day FB. You mess w/ my dispensary, your going to push my buttons and then I’m going to push that little special button called.…DELETE!

  8. Rob Rusher on

    While it is a convenience for us to use and advertise on these networks, we do have other options that cater to this industry. i.e. GrowBuddy for garden products, Ganja Box for consumer items, Weedmaps for dispensaries, etc. Those who are interested will find you because it is a hot social topic as well as political.

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