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The Implications of Facebook’s Proposed New Cannabis Policy

In its current state, Facebook has been meticulous in stomping out all cannabis-related activity. In fact, since commercialized cannabis started gaining popularity, Facebook made it a point to not only prohibit the paid advertising of cannabis products, but to ban all cannabis-related groups. Nonetheless, the introduction of a new policy could permit legitimate recreational and medical brands to market their products using Facebook. While Facebook has remained stern on its prohibition of paid cannabis advertisements, brands would be allowed to use Facebook’s basic functions – allowing them to market their products, services, menus and prices to encourage potential customers to contact them. With the potential introduction of this proposed policy, there are several implications for Facebook, Cannabis brands, and current Facebook users alike.

The Good

Increased web traffic: The only reason that Facebook would consider moving forward with this new policy is if it stands to gain something from it. That being said, Facebook stands to gain some serious web traffic if it implements this policy change. With over 2 billion active monthly users, Facebook can generate some serious buzz. Despite previous efforts to deny all political entanglements, Facebook is undeniably connected to the way that people interact with and perceive politics (whether or not FB is actively influencing politics is altogether another matter). Given the current political tension of State vs. Federal cannabis laws, introducing Cannabis brands into the Facebook mix could be the missing link for those actively campaigning to end the cannabis stigma and decriminalize cannabis perpetrations.

Brand exposure = increased accountability: This would be an obvious win for Cannabis brands. With permission to come aboard guns blazing, Cannabis brands could piggyback off Facebook’s loyal users to generate extensive brand exposure. While the marijuana industry has proven fruitful, grossing nearly $10 billion in 2018, the CBD industry has grown out of the shadow of the marijuana industry, to carve out its own market currently projected to surpass $2 billion. The introduction of this new CBD industry has proven ambiguous and confusing. Current known brands have been cutting regulatory corners and producing less than desirable finished goods; unknown brands have proven completely unreliable. With both known and unknown brands taking advantage of this ambiguity, Facebook could end up the masked hero. The way to conquer this confusion is by talking about it; that is, brands could be forced to ‘button up’ with more than 2 billion eyes watching their every move. If brands wish to use Facebook as a marketing tool, then the price of admission is accountability – at least according to Facebook, which would only permit ‘legitimate’ Cannabis brands to assimilate.

The Bad

Regulatory implications: With admission promised to ‘legitimate’ Cannabis brands only, and given the international outreach of Facebook, the different legal and social restrictions across the globe present significant operational and logistical challenges. Firstly, how will the social media giant address the potential advertisement to underage users? Facebook has considered the possibility of applying an age-filter that would prevent anyone under 21 years of age from seeing said content. However, this would not prevent minors from lying about their age on their profiles. Addressing the topic of vetting brands is another implication. Currently, the main regulatory body for any consumable product is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Clearly, an organization like Facebook would not have the power to approve drugs or dietary supplements, but it would retain the power to limit which brands they permit as Facebook users. However, what criteria would brands have to meet? If Facebook becomes a marketplace for Cannabis products, how much influence could this have for brands formulating new products? What about products already produced?

Closing remarks:

All in all, while the implications of this proposed policy change are clear, the ramifications are not. In fact, this proposed change comes at a peculiar time; a few days ago, the FDA’s 23rd commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned. Scott was noted for his battle against the Opioid epidemic and “hands-off” approach to Cannabis regulation. Nonetheless, it is not outlandish to suggest that the new FDA commissioner could be sterner with the Cannabis sector and might cause Facebook to reconsider the implications of this new proposed policy. With any luck, this policy change will move forward, and we can begin the process of educating consumers by framing the necessary transparency between brands and potential customers.