Verify This: Instagram's War on Cannabis Gaslights, Penalizes Legal Brands

Inconsistencies between social media platform’s regulations and enforcement are egregious and hypocritical.

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Instagram has made its stance very clear on some key areas of interest in an effort to protect its community members.

Nipples? Those are not allowed. Hey, there are kids on there — that makes complete sense! No matter your gender identity or sexual expression, I say fine, keep covered up in a public space - no shirt, no shoes, no service, right?

Plastic surgery filters? Those are reportedly no longer okay by the platform. In my opinion, that’s a good call — finally, it looks like Instagram is doing something to curb body dysmorphia in youth. Having lost up to 25 pounds three separate times on a reality television show and gained it all back only to rewatch and get compliments on my malnourished body, I’m a proponent of doing away with body-warping filters. That can be a real mind-screw. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Cannabis advertising? “Heck no!” says Instagram.

The platform states its stance on cannabis in no uncertain terms. Instagram “doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country.”

The platform gets even more detailed: “Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses or by using the “Contact Us” tab in Instagram Business Accounts. However, we do allow people to include a website link in their bio information.”

Everyone has a different thought on cannabis legalization and restrictions around it. I personally find Instagram’s policies prohibiting legal, regulated operators from posting their contact or addresses ridiculous.

After all, the point of legalizing cannabis is to encourage operators to do things “the right way,” isn’t it?! Why should companies doing their due diligence be penalized? But I digress. I’ll put away my passionate feelings about legal operations being penalized to focus on the worst part of Instagram’s War Against Cannabis.

And what’s that, you ask? Reader’s Digest version, TLDR: Instagram is full of it. And that “it” rhymes with another word that includes two letters preceding “I” and “T.”

The issue isn’t so much what it does or doesn’t allow, it’s that Instagram blatantly gaslights cannabis business — many of them small, budding cannabis entrepreneurs with a whole lot of heart and limited opportunities (and funds) to spread the word about their efforts.

Any cannapreneur knows full well that any engagement you get on IG one day could turn into a full-fledged ban tomorrow. That community you built over the past year that just loved your post last night? It could be gone in the morning as quickly as the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting that fully wiped out Humboldt County’s cannabis in the 80s (any other “Murder Mountain” fans here?)

It’s well known that Instagram eradication is a very real issue for operators. The platform is practically the digital Wild West. But the worst part of it all is that Instagram picks and chooses who gets wiped out, and its decisions are worse than questionable, they’re downright hypocritical.

Let’s take a look:

Beboe - Cannabis Brand - @beboefamily - 72.7K followers

  • Bio states it’s the "Hermès of Marijuana" - NY Times.
    • Last I checked, Hermès was a bougie fashion company - one that you buy things from. Put two-and-two together, and that sounds an awful lot like Beboe is suggesting they might be selling something and that something is marijuana. VIOLATION, per Instagram

And the best part of all these Instagram violations for BEBOE?

The company has received a very special kind of categorization for all their infractions on the platform - the creme de la creme; the ULTIMATE designation for any brand on IG; something akin to coronation for digital marketers — a big, fat, blue verification mark. A checkmark verifying that the brand has status, is fully accepted and essentially has had its identity and existence acknowledged and elevated by the platform.

Since I’m feeling generous, dear Instagram, here’s one more:

MedMen - one of the most known cannabis retailers in the United States - @shopmedmen - 125K followers

  • The company handle? @ShopMedMen - seems like they might be selling something if there's a reason to shop. VIOLATION, per Instagram
  • Bio states there is “nothing for sale” and, at the same time, the company is a “cannabis retailer.” Say what? VIOLATION, per Instagram 
  • There’s no storefront address on the site, but there are photos of brand new store openings, like this one in Nevada. Sure, this isn’t an address, but it’s a storefront, and it appears things are for sale at that storefront. VIOLATION, per Instagram, right?

Wrong.

MedMen is also verified with a pretty little checkmark next to its brand name. Thanks, Instagram.

I’ll let you come to your own conclusions. I’ve been a digital marketer for the past 10 years. Before that I was a journalist for seven. All I know is, something smells funky.

When I asked an agency partner to reach out to our Instagram/Facebook representative about the discrepancy and the brands referenced, we received some nebulous “grandfathered in” comment and reiteration that promotion of cannabis products, including CBD (even though it’s not psychoactive), is prohibited on the platform.

So, Instagram by Facebook (or whatever you’re called these days)/Mark Zuckerberg, if you’re there listening -- I’m beginning to think the “reefer madness” you’re so afraid of small businesses promoting on your platform isn’t coming from the companies you’re gaslighting, but from you.

As for whatever you’re smoking when you’re writing and enforcing your regulations -- you might want to head over to a profile of one of the IG unverified, legal cannabis dispensaries you’ve tried to eradicate five times. From there, click on the link in their bio, find their address on their website, bring your acceptable form of identification and go to their storefront.

Why? Because whatever you’re smoking now, you got some funny s**t.

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