Facebook Marketing for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses

Facebook is an important part of most businesses’ social media marketing strategies, but for businesses in the cannabis industry, Facebook can be extremely challenging. Since cannabis is illegal at the federal level, businesses operating in or with the industry can easily violate Facebook’s terms of service for content and activities that may be published on a company’s Facebook Pages. Furthermore, advertising on Facebook isn’t allowed at all for cannabis businesses and many cannabis-related businesses.

At any moment, Facebook could shadowban or shut down a cannabis business’ Facebook Page without notice. The same is true of non-plant-touching businesses that sell ancillary products and services to the cannabis industry.

With that information in mind, is it worth the time and effort to publish content on Facebook when the rules are so murky and seem to vary from one cannabis business to another or one post to another?

The answer for most businesses in the marijuana industry is yes, but with a great deal of caution.

The Evolution of Facebook Marketing and Advertising for the Cannabis Industry

Several years ago, Facebook didn’t want any type of cannabis content or businesses on its platform. At the time, cannabis business pages were shut down without notice. Some of these incidents involved multiple pages shut down in large numbers – like the Alaskan dispensary purge of 2017 or the Colorado, New Jersey, Arizona, Maine, Oregon, and Washington dispensary crackdown of 2016.

Eventually, Facebook loosened its restrictions (a bit) and many cannabis and cannabis-related businesses were able to develop their Facebook Pages without getting shut down. However, no one could find those pages unless they knew about them because Facebook omitted them from search results.

It wasn’t until October 2018 that Facebook revised its rules and allowed cannabis business pages to appear in users’ search results. However, there are still a lot of rules that cannabis and cannabis-related businesses need to follow, and most of those rules are vague and up to Facebook’s interpretation.

The Ever-Changing Facebook Rules

Advertising cannabis products and services is very difficult on Facebook. Cannabis businesses’ Facebook Ads accounts are shut down quickly and without notice with an appeals process that is completely useless (unless the media gets involved and Facebook gets bad press – then you might have a chance to get your account reinstated).

While Facebook’s policies don’t allow posts or ads that promote the sale of cannabis, the way the company implements those policies is confusing. The company states content and ads that promote advocacy and don’t promote the sale or distribution of cannabis are allowed, but ad accounts that follow those guidelines are shut down all the time.

From an educational company that advertised its seminars for people who want to open licensed businesses or secure employment in the legal cannabis industry to non-profit organizations that advertise community events, Facebook has disabled ad accounts with the same message:

“There’s no further action that you may take here. We don’t support ads for your business model. Consider this decision final.”

Despite the murky rules and the inconsistent application of those rules, Telegraph reported in March 2019 that Facebook was thinking about changing its rules so businesses could promote cannabis products. A Facebook employee said during an internal presentation that the company was considering, “whether we can loosen this restriction, especially in relation to medical marijuana, legal marijuana, and brick and mortar stores.”

According to Telegraph, Facebook put together an internal working group in 2019 to evaluate how its rules could change to allow posts and discussions related to buying and selling cannabis in areas where it’s legal. Unfortunately, it’s now 2023, and not much has changed.

Facebook’s Hemp and Related Products Advertising Policy and Unsafe Substances Policy

Facebook and its parent company, Meta, provide some details about cannabis industry marketing and advertising on the platform in policies published on their websites. For example, Facebook’s Hemp and Related Products Advertising Policy states:

“We don’t allow ads that promote or offer the sale of the following products:

- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) products or cannabis products that contain related psychoactive components

- CBD (Cannabidiol) products or similar cannabinoid products such as CBG (Cannabigerol)”

In addition, some specific examples of images that violate the policy are provided with the following explanations:

“The image violates our policy because it depicts and promotes parts of the cannabis plant that contain THC (for example, the buds).

“The image violates our policy because it promotes marijuana, which is considered a THC product. 

“The image violates our policy because it promotes cannabis oil, which is considered a THC product.”

Note that Facebook’s Hemp and Related Products Advertising Policy defines “THC or related products” as follows:

“Under this policy, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) or related cannabis products are products that contain more than 0.3% THC, promote themselves as a THC product, or contain related psychoactive components. They include both ingestible and non-ingestible products.”

That definition seems to rule out all cannabis products from Facebook advertising. This is further explained in Meta’s Unsafe Substances Policy, which says:

“Ads must not promote the sale or use of illicit or recreational drugs, or other unsafe substances, products or supplements, as determined by Meta at its sole discretion.”

The Unsafe Substances Policy further states that ads cannot:

“Solicit, buy, sell, trade, donate or gift (such as freebies) illicit, recreational, or other potentially unsafe drugs, products or supplements

“Encourage the consumption of illicit, recreational, or other potentially unsafe drugs, products or supplements

“Promote the sale of drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling papers and vaporized delivery devices”

And here is what the policy says ads can do:

Refer to prohibited drugs, products, or supplements for the purposes of political advocacy, news, and awareness campaigns as long as they don’t promote the sale or consumption of those substances

That doesn’t leave much for advertisers in the cannabis industry to work with. If you decide to test Facebook advertising, be very careful that your ad image, text, and the landing page where the ad leads people, are about education. However, don’t forget that even non-profits and educational companies have had their Facebook ad accounts shut down, so tread extremely carefully.

What Cannabis License Holders Can Do with Facebook Marketing Today

Since Facebook advertising is nearly impossible for cannabis and ancillary companies, Facebook marketing can be a better option. With caution, cannabis license holders can publish content on their Facebook Pages. 

When posting content on your Facebook Page, follow the do’s and don’ts listed below that are based on what is currently known about Facebook’s rules for businesses operating in or with the marijuana industry:

Facebook Marketing Don’ts for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses

  • Don’t say that a product is for sale, trade, or delivery.
  • Don’t ask people to buy a product.
  • Don’t list prices.
  • Don’t encourage people to inquire or contact your business about a product.
  • Don’t show images that depict the sale of cannabis products.
  • Don’t post anything that gives instructions on how to grow, sell, or use cannabis.
  • Don’t provide any contact information for people to buy cannabis products.
  • Don’t make any medical claims.

Facebook Marketing Do’s for Cannabis Businesses and Cannabis-Related Businesses

  • Do post educational, informative content.
  • Do post advocacy content including data, statistics, quotes, legislative updates, health reports, research results, and so on.
  • Do post images of products – just don’t post anything that implies the products are for sale, trade, or delivery.
  • Do keep an eye on Facebook’s updates to its guidelines so you’re always adhering to the current rules.
  • Do closely monitor the activities on your page, particularly if you outsource content creation, sharing, and communications on your business page to a marketing agency, freelancer, or other third party. It’s equally important to monitor your employees’ activities on your Page as well to ensure they comply with Facebook’s rules.

Keep in mind, just because you see another cannabis or cannabis-related business publishing content on Facebook that may not be allowed doesn’t mean they’re doing so without risk. They may not have gotten caught yet, or they may never get caught. Every business has to decide how much risk they’re willing to accept when it comes to publishing content on Facebook that could violate the platform’s rules.

Key Takeaways about Facebook Marketing for the Cannabis Industry

If Facebook changed its rules and allowed cannabis businesses to use the platform as businesses in other industries do, it would be far more valuable to the cannabis industry overall. Until then, the above rules still apply, so your first steps should be to start publishing educational, non-self-promotional posts to your business’ Facebook Page.

Publishing content to a Facebook Page is a great way to build a community for your cannabis business that can grow over time. When Facebook eventually (hopefully) allows businesses operating in and with the cannabis industry to advertise, you’ll already have a presence on the platform and an active page where people can learn more about your business.

For now (and in the future), having an active Facebook Page provides social proof and adds a level of brand trust that helps turn prospects into buying customers.

In terms of the content you publish on your page and whether or not you try Facebook advertising, only you can decide the level of risk you’re willing to accept. Learn the guidelines and understand that Facebook has a tendency to leave them open to interpretation – Facebook’s interpretation. Tread carefully.

Again, it’s up to you to continually weigh the risks (including having your Facebook ads account or your Facebook Page shut down) versus the rewards and act accordingly based on your risk tolerance.

Want to connect with cannabis license holders across the United States, Canada, and international markets without relying on Facebook marketing and ads? Schedule a demo and see how the Cannabiz Media License Database can help your business grow.

Originally published 4/16/19. Updated 4/7/23.

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