On October 11, 2018, Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”) announced that it will allow marijuana advertising via cannabis-related pages for verified organizations and/or businesses to appear in users’ search results on Facebook. These verified organizations or businesses will carry Facebook’s “gray” and “blue” verification symbols and will be searchable to Facebook users via terms such as “cannabis” and “marijuana.” The timing of Facebook’s marijuana advertising announcement comes on the heels of legalized recreational marijuana use in Canada.

Why did Facebook change its marijuana advertising policy?

The Explosion of Marijuana Legislation

In 2017, legal marijuana sales in North America were approximately $9.7 billion. At least thirty (30) U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing some sort of cannabis sales and related marketing. As we have previously blogged, states have strict regulations on the type of marijuana advertising, packaging, and promotional activities that cannabis businesses are legally allowed to engage in. In addition, social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, also have terms and policies that regulate marijuana advertising.

Before last week, marijuana advertising resulting from search terms including “cannabis” and “marijuana” were filtered by Facebook to protect against illegal marketing and sales of cannabis via its platform. However, as of two weeks ago, Facebook has relaxed its marijuana advertising filters. According to Facebook spokeswoman, Sarah Pollack, in a statement provided to MarketWatch, “We are constantly working to improve our search results so that we minimize the opportunity for people to attempt illicit drug sales while showing content that is allowed on Facebook and is relevant to what you are searching.”

Facebook users can now access verified Facebook pages for cannabis-related companies, as well as cannabis-related governmental and non-governmental organizations (such as the California Bureau of Cannabis Control). This is important because cannabis-related content will now be available on a platform that includes basically every demographic, allowing companies and marijuana advertising market research firms to access new and valuable consumer data.

Marijuana Advertising on Facebook

In order for a cannabis-related company or organization to have its Facebook page accessible to users via search results, the entity needs to obtain a “gray” or “blue” verification symbol from Facebook. The “gray” verification badge is for businesses (“blue” is not available for businesses) and lets consumers know that the business is authentic. To receive a “gray” verification badge from Facebook, the company or organization needs to publish its page on Facebook, have a profile and cover photo, and include posts. Then the company must provide Facebook with a publicly-listed telephone number and submit a four-digit verification code provided by Facebook during an automated call with Facebook. In addition, per Facebook’s Advertising Policies, every ad will need to be reviewed prior to publication on the platform.

While pages will be accessible in searches, companies’ pages and/or advertising must also comply with Facebook’s Community Standards. With respect to marijuana advertising, companies are prohibited from posting content that depicts the sale or attempt to purchase marijuana including, but not limited to:

  • explicitly mentioning that a product is for sale, trade, or delivery;
  • asking the audience to buy a product;
  • listing a product price; and
  • encouraging contact/inquiries about a product.

Marijuana Advertising Compliance

While a violation of Facebook’s policies may not result in a violation of the law, Facebook can remove ads or cancel your account for such conduct. In this era of digital marketing, losing the ability to advertise on Facebook could be devastating to a business. If you are a cannabis-related company or marketing firm, not only must you comply with applicable state laws, but also the marketing policies (including terms of service and other related policies) of social media platforms.

Marijuana-related businesses should consult with an experienced marketing attorney before commencing any marijuana advertising campaign.