Marijuana is legal in some capacity in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but Facebook is silently fighting back one dispensary page at a time.
Within the past two weeks, the social media giant has reportedly been disabling the Facebook pages of state-legal cannabis businesses across the country. While the total number of marijuana business pages that have been disabled is unclear, NBC News has confirmed that at least a dozen businesses in six states have experienced shutdowns.
At least 100 marijuana companies were removed from Facebook & Instagram in the last week alone. We were one of them! https://t.co/KARsjCqgOU
— PharmaCannis (@pharmacannis) February 12, 2016
From recreational shops in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington State to medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey, Arizona, and Nevada, Facebook is going after legitimate cannabis businesses for what it claims are violations of the social network’s “Community Standards.”
According to NBC News three of the five medical marijuana dispensaries, or Alternative Treatment Centers (ATC’s), in New Jersey had their Facebook pages shut down just last week. Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center, Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center (CSATC), and Garden State Dispensary all received messages from Facebook stating their pages had been “unpublished” because the content posted on their pages “doesn’t follow the Facebook Terms.”
The surprise shutdown not only shocked dispensary owners, but angered patients, who said they rely on the up-to-the minute information the pages provided about the latest strains that help alleviate debilitating symptoms, reports NBC News.
“Facebook pages are an important link to let patients know which strains of cannabis or marijuana they have available, the best strains for which medical conditions, and to allow the patients to interact with the ATCs,” Peter Rosenfeld, one of the 5,668 registered patients in the state’s program told NBC News.
In addition to being a patient, Rosenfeld is also a board member of the Coalition of Medical Marijuana of New Jersey (CMMNJ) – an educational organization that works with the state in the development and implementation of the medical marijuana laws.
Rosenfeld says that Facebook has not been clear with dispensaries on what they can and cannot post on the social media site.
“I think it was very capricious and arbitrary of Facebook to have taken this action in the first place,” Rosenfeld said. “They at least have a responsibility to explain, in detail, why they took the action they did and how to avoid these actions in the future.”
Shortly after being shut down CSATC made a few edits to its page, removing what it though Facebook might see as “offending material,” and appealed the decision. The page was reinstated on Feb. 7.
Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center, which was also shut down on Feb. 2, started a new page altogether, whereas Garden State Dispensary can no longer be found on Facebook.
Even so, other dispensaries say they are angry because they don’t understand why they were shut down or what they need to do to prevent a shut down from happening.
Mary’s Medicinals, for example, makes products like patches, gels, pens, and capsules that use cannabis. Mary’s has been in business for three years and is best known for its transdermal cannabis patch. Mary’s Facebook page, launched in 2013, with more than 20,000 followers and countless product reviews, was disabled late this January.
Mary’s Medicinals is headquartered in Denver, Colorado – the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
When an employee of Mary’s tried to login to the business’ Facebook account, they received a notification that stated their page had been unpublished with a message that read Facebook “remove[s] any promotion or encouragement of drug use.”
In an email to NBC News, a Facebook spokesperson said “These pages have been removed for violating our Community Standards, which outline what is and is not allowed on Facebook.”