Cannabis Weekly: Massachusetts Proves Instagram Hasn’t Changed Tune on Cannabis

Recent days have brought a warning shot, delivered by the social media juggernauts, that state level legalizations, though important victories, don’t by themselves amount to social media freedom for the buyers and sellers of cannabis. Further victories, especially the rollback of federal prohibition and criminalization, are yet to be gained.

On Thursday, November 20th the first lawful recreational cannabis stores opened in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There were only two of them, Cultivate, in Leicester, and New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Northampton. Several hundred people were reportedly in and out of the Leicester store by lunchtime. The first-day market response in Northampton was similarly enthusiastic.

Cannabis Related Instagram Accounts Suspended

But the following week both stores (and four other Massachusetts dispensaries that are still medical-use only licensees) had their Instagram accounts disabled, allegedly for violation of Instagram’s terms of use. An Instagram spokeswoman says the company’s policy “does not allow content that promotes the sale of marijuana regardless of state or country.”  

Our industry ought to heed the cancellation of these accounts (an action echoed by Facebook). Cultivate in particular has employed Instagram to update patients for years. Yet now the proprietors have been severed from a critical means of communication between Cultivate and the public.

Hard work and considerable investment goes into building a brand. Given the importance of social media, the behemoths in this field can rob entrepreneurs of the fruits of that work and investment. They can do this knowingly, by bowing to the political winds they feel, or they can do this inadvertently, as just the quirk of an algorithm.

Although about 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, that rookie year failure happens to a staggering 97% of cannabis oriented startups. I think these discriminatory ad policies are part of the reason for the big difference between those two numbers.

Educational/Informative Content

AdvertiseMint, which bills itself as “the #1 advertising agency for Facebook, Instagram & Snapchat,” explains (with regard to Facebook specifically) that “if you search for the words ‘marijuana’ or ‘cannabis’ on Facebook, you’ll find business pages with organic content about the substances. As long as the content is educational or informative, Facebook appears to allow it.”

But, AdvertiseMint also says, “proceed with caution.”

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Photo by Luke Van Zyl

Photo by Luke Van Zyl

Is social media marketing of CBD Oil different?

There is some reason to hope that the situation is different for the social media marketing of CBD Oil. After all, in September the US Drug Enforcement Administration removed some CBD products from Schedule I.

But that is still a hope, not a fact. The September DEA order “places FDA-approved drugs that contain CBD derived from cannabis and not more than 0.1 percent [THC] in Schedule V.” On its face, that language leaves even CBD oils that have not yet received FDA approval in the same boat as before. And the FDA thus far has only approved an extract produced by GW Pharma, Epidiolex.  

So it isn’t clear when social media giants will consistently treat CBD Oil marketing any better than they have treated state-legal marijuana. Those of us building businesses around CBD need to focus on education to convince the skeptics of its health benefits… while we wait for the regulators to do the rest.


Nik DeCosta-Klipa, “Why are Instagram and Facebook Shutting Down These Massachusetts Marijuana Dispensaries’ Accounts, (November 29, 2018).

Drug Enforcement Administration, “Schedules of Controlled Substances: Placement in Schedule V of Certain FDA-Approved Drugs Containing Cannabidiol; Corresponding Change to Permit Requirements,” Federal Register (September 28, 2018).

Anna Hubbel, “Here are the Social Media Advertising Options for Cannabis Companies,” AdvertiseMint (July 30, 2018)

Sari Lesk, “Wheel & Sprocket Adds CBD Products to Stores,” Milwaukee Business Journal (November 30, 2018).

Staff, “DEA Takes CBD ff Schedule I -- with FDA Approval,” Hemp Industry Daily (September 27, 2018).

Laurel J. Sweet, “Legalized Marijuana: Recreational Pot Sales Draw Crowd on First Day,” Boston Herald (November 20, 2018).

Kriste Wiley, “How CBD Oil Brands Can Advertise on Social Media Without Getting Shut Down,” Statusphere (September 24, 2018).

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