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Instagram, Facebook shut down accounts of Central Mass. marijuana dispensaries

BY Zachary Comeau

11/28/2018
Photo | Zachary Comeau
Photo | Zachary Comeau
Customers wait in a long line to purchase marijuana at Cultivate in Leicester.

Leicester marijuana retailer Cultivate has had a tough time communicating with its customers and the community since recreational cannabis sales began on Nov. 20, as the company had its Instagram account shut down.
Chief Operating Officer Robert Lally said at an emergency meeting held on Monday to discuss traffic issues near the store part of the blame for the company’s communication struggles have to do with Instagram and parent company Facebook, which prohibit most cannabis-related content.
"Instagram was a really useful tool for communication,” said spokesperson Francy Wade. “It’s an opportunity for us to showcase our products."
However, that use violated the social media platform's policies. The company also hasn't posted on Facebook since Oct. 13. 
Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012. 
According to Instagram spokeswoman Stephanie Noon, at least three Central Massachusetts marijuana business all violated the platform’s regulated goods policies: Cultivate, Wakefield-based Curaleaf with a medical dispensary in Oxford, and Milford-based Sira Naturals with dispensaries in the Greater Boston area. Medway-based CommCan, which has dispensaries in Millis and Southborough, also had its account shut down, said CEO Marc Rosenfeld.
New England Treatment Access, which along with Cultivate was the first to open for recreational sales east of the Mississippi River, had its account disabled after gathering 3,400 followers. The company has since made a new account and its first post was on Saturday, four days after the start of adult-use pot sales.
A link for the Instagram account of Boston-based Patriot Care was also removed as of Nov. 28.
On Thursday, Facebook pages for Sira, NETA, and Curaleaf were not active. Curaleaf spokesperson Samantha Qualls said the company's page was deactivated by Facebook, most likely for posting cannabis-related content. 
"Our social pages have been shut down briefly in the past and we have successfully appealed to get them reinstated, as we will do in this case," she said.
A Facebook spokesperson said the pages were deactivated after WBJ asked the company's media department for clarification whether Instagram and Facebook have different policies.
Regardless of state, country and the current status of marijuana legalization in any territory, Facebook and Instagram do not allow content that promotes the sale of marijuana. Any dispensaries are prohibited from providing contact information like phone numbers or street addresses.
Marijuana advocacy content is allowed, as long as it isn’t promoting sales.
Facebook's policies on drug-related content are largely the same as Instagram.
CommCan's Instagram account was deactivated about two months ago, said CEO Marc Rosenfeld. As of Thursday, its Facebook page was still active. 
The company has since started a new account loaded with disclaimers, including a 21-plus requirement and the statement, “Please consume responsibly.”
For a time, the account was private, meaning followers had to be approved before they could view content. 
“Nothing’s for sale,” Rosenfeld said of the account.
For Cultivate and CommCan, Instagram represented a non-obtrusive form of communication for the cannabis industry. 
Over on Twitter, the social media platform prohibits the promotion of drugs and paraphernalia globally, including recreational drugs and dispensaries.
Paying for sponsored content on these platforms can be even more difficult, said Adam Higgins of Regulate Cape Cod and co-founder of Sira Natural’s cannabis business accelerator program. 
With years of experience in the advertisement industry, Higgins quickly began to realize how difficult promoting the industry would be using standard digital marketing tools like Facebook.
“What I’ve found is anything directly trying to drive people to products -- those things are totally no-nos,” he said.
Paid ads on Facebook for the cannabis industry routinely get denied, but he said the platform’s appeals process is comprehensive and timely. 
He also said pictures of cannabis flower and products will get flagged. 
“Awareness-level content is what should be promoted to new people you’re trying to introduce your brand to,” he said.
To rectify the situation, Higgins suggested marijuana companies try a more organic marketing approach and utilize the audience companies already own to grow their customer base.
“If you’re converting Instagram followers into newsletter subscribers, now that’s your audience,” he said.