Hemp is legal in America but banned from Facebook.
One day in late April, Larry Serbin logged into Facebook to find that the advertisement he had carefully built for his hemp fiber products company, Hemp Traders, had been denied. The advertising account associated with his business page of over 9,000 followers, had also vanished into thin air with little to no explanation from Facebook administrators. Serbin eventually discovered that his ad account had been booted for violating Facebook’s advertising policies, citing the promotion of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs in his ad titled, “Saving the Forests - Saving the Planet.”
Hemp Traders, the largest supplier of hemp fiber products in the world, is one of the thousands of hemp companies operating legally to see their Facebook accounts shut down or advertising requests denied in the last year. Additionally, Facebook appears to be making it more difficult for users to discover hemp related pages from CBD companies, to hemp food retailers and trade groups. The leading social media platform, with its 2.38 billion monthly users, represents a massive market for small businesses.
Last December, President Trump signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, i.e. farm bill, which included the Hemp Farming Act, redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and explicitly removing it from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act and the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Administration, much to the delight of thousands of hemp farmers and entrepreneurs nationwide. Although the cash crop is now federally legal, hemp entrepreneurs still face unique challenges in today’s market. They currently don’t have access to Facebook or Instagram advertising, which accounts for nearly 57 percent of the U.S. digital ad market, according to eMarketer.
While Facebook may be totally within their rights to pull the plug on any content on their platform, the seemingly random account suspensions and advertising denials have created an uneven and unfair playing field for entrepreneurs wishing to find success in the hemp industry, denying legal, hemp-related companies -- most of which do not sell marijuana products at all -- access to one of the most important marketing platforms in the world. With little to no explanation or assistance from Facebook administrators, many hemp companies are left at a standstill with their digital marketing efforts.
With the passage of the farm bill, it seemed there would be a new dawn for the hemp industries absolving them the confusion over whether hemp was indeed a controlled substance. Not all of Cannabis is considered a drug, and Facebook’s new AI technology is already obsolete if it continues to recognize images of Cannabis as a controlled substance generally. For new entrepreneurs looking to break into the growing hemp industry, being denied access to the social media platform’s advertising capabilities represents a massive roadblock.
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), in association with Hoban Law Group, Bluebird Botanicals, and Bish Enterprises, is launching a nationwide campaign aimed at addressing Facebook’s current advertising policy that prohibits the marketing and promotion of industrial hemp. The goal is to change Facebook’s current policy by applying pressure starting in the most public way possible, a call to action in none other than Times Square. The HIA’s advertisement in the heart of Manhattan addresses the Association’s most pressing concern; Facebook: stop censoring hemp. Hemp advertisements are allowed in Times Square, so why not on Facebook? Hemp is legal.
In addition, the HIA is coordinating a massive grassroots social media campaign among its more than 1,500 members in support of the much-needed policy change. The Association is asking all hemp supporters – advocates, farmers, processors, manufacturers, retailers and consumers – to join the movement and help turn Facebook green. The HIA is using a specially created Instagram account (and populating the hashtag #hempislegal) to feature examples of the platform’s discrimination toward hemp companies, highlighting the importance of addressing this outdated and misguided policy. The HIA also urges hemp supporters to visit the campaign’s official communication portal, HempIsLegal.org, to sign a petition of support.
The lack of clarity surrounding Facebook’s policy towards federally legalized hemp is perhaps the most common and frustrating complaint around the hemp industry. Hemp supporters see this as a critical moment for legal hemp companies to demand that technology giants like Facebook, take them seriously both as a legal business and as a multi-billion dollar market.
by Colleen Keahey Lanier, Executive Director of Hemp Industries Association