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Facebook Content Police Remove Medical Marijuana Pages

UPDATE 2/9/16 – Facebook has restored the pages of the Breakwater Treatment and the Compassionate Sciences dispensaries in New Jersey. Both had appealed the site’s removal of their pages. Meanwhile Facebook has taken down the page of a dispensary in Oregon. Breeze Botanicals in Rouge Valley noticed that their page was removed today.

By Chris Goldstein 2/6/2016

Facebook is taking down pages for state regulated medical marijuana businesses. Patients are not happy.

This week news broke at NJ.com that the pages for three medical cannabis facilities in New Jersey suddenly went offline on the same day.

The NJ Alternative Treatment Centers are some of the most heavily regulated in the country. They used the pages to update registered patients about available strains, hours of operation and other important news. The pages were publicly available akin to what almost every business operates on the site.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has taken this kind of action. Pages for dozens of marijuana businesses across the country have gone down. Facebook does have strict rules against promoting tobacco, firearms and «drugs.»

Those who have their pages taken down get a note that the content violates the Facebook «community standards» in some way but specifics are not offered.

facebookjailCompanies have the ability to appeal but if they are not reinstated the pages are permanently deleted.

It is rather bizarre that all three of the NJ facilities’ pages were taken offline on the same day.

The NJ ATCs do have websites and some maintain email newsletters for patients. But social media is increasingly where people get information and it was a convenient venue for the facilities to interact with their clients.

Locally there are strict state regulations in place regarding how the NJ ATCs can provide information to patients.

8:64–12.1 Marketing and advertising
(a) Alternative treatment centers shall restrict signage to black text on a white background on external signage, labeling and brochures for the alternative treatment center.
(b) Alternative treatment center signage shall not be illuminated at any time.
(c) Alternative treatment centers shall not display on the exterior of the facility advertisements for medicinal marijuana or a brand name except for purposes of identifying the building by the permitted name.
(d) Alternative treatment centers shall not advertise the price of marijuana, except that: 1. An ATC can provide a catalogue or a printed list of the prices and strains of medicinal marijuana available at the alternative treatment center to registered qualifying patients and primary caregivers.
(e) Marijuana and paraphernalia shall not be displayed or clearly visible to a person from the exterior of an alternative treatment center.
(f) Alternative treatment centers shall not produce any items for sale or promotional gifts, such as T-shirts or novelty items, bearing a symbol or references to marijuana. This prohibition shall not pertain to paraphernalia sold to registered qualifying patients or their primary caregivers.

Facebook is not the arbiter of how the NJ ATCs may or may not be following those rules with their presence on the site. The simultaneous action also suggests some conscious effort instead of some computer algorithm.

Not all of the NJ medical marijuana dispensaries had their information removed. The page for Compassionate Care Foundation (CCF) in Egg Harbor Township is still available.

A recent post on 2/6/16 at 8:57AM states:

We are open today from 9 am to 4 pm!
Stop in & see us 🙂
Our available strains for SATURDAY, 2/6/2016:
**Available in both bud and shake**
Shark Shock
Frosty Kush
Pineapple Chunk
Red Cherry Berry
Violator Kush

Interestingly CCF won a $357,000 loan from the NJ Economic Development Authority and their Board of Directors has close ties to Governor Chris Christie’s administration. Their page has photos of vaporizers, pipes, Magical Butter machines and staff but no photos of any cannabis.

Facebook doesn’t just come down on businesses that deal directly with the plant.

In recent years I have personally dealt with marijuana reform advocacy pages being removed but have successfully seen them restored. Local groups looking to pay Facebook to boost posts or create ads on the site to promote political events related to cannabis legalization have also been denied.

It is certainly odd that in America where an ocean of alcohol is for sale in restaurants, bars, sporting events, gas stations and grocery stores that there are such strict limitations on legal cannabis.

Chuck E Cheese, the arcade for kids, is even serving beer and wine.

This weekend the penultimate alcohol marketing event of the year, the Superbowl, will bombard millions of viewers with beer, wine and liquor advertisements.

Alcohol, and enthusiasm for consuming it, has found a welcome home on social media.

People do not think twice about posting pictures of sipping a microbrew or sharing cocktails with their friends at a club. But, even in legal states, posting a selfie with a joint on Instagram can cost people their jobs.

Meanwhile social media sites have found steady business in heavily promoting alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs.

The Facebook page for Budweiser has 13 million followers. Pfizer, the maker of Oxycontin, has almost 200,000 likes.

This is despite the growing problems with drinking in America (88,000 deaths per year according to the Centers of Disease Control) and the increasing awareness that prescription drugs are fueling a massive opiate addiction epidemic.

Social media sites need to stop being content police when it comes to cannabis. Facebook should think long and hard of the consequences if every supporter of legal marijuana boycotted their site, even for a single day.

Restricting information about state-legal marijuana is nothing less than outright discrimination.