Instagram is a great platform. Advertisers (including myself) have embraced and loved the platform for years. We’ve spent millions of dollars on it in one year alone. As the former head of Samsung media, I can easily attest to that. We’ve spent even more on influencers, leaning into creative content and partnerships. We all love it – pictures really are worth more than a thousand words.

However, your platforms are also hypocrisy at its finest. On Instagram last week without any warning or notice you randomly pulled down certain cannabis accounts and stopped allowing cannabis related advertising. Keep in mind, you started allowing cannabis advertising without telling anyone, some of us just figured it out. I’d love to know why some accounts that directly sell cannabis can run ads (yeah, I’ve got the receipts) but other accounts (not related to direct sales) can’t run ads and other accounts…can’t even exist?

On Facebook, you started shadow banning accounts. That totally makes sense. As cannabis becomes more accepted and legalization hits more states, you should put it under the same guidelines as racists and hate speech. Both companies are based in California, where cannabis is legal recreationally. If this wasn’t so infuriating, it would be ridiculous.

Cannabis is recreationally legal in 9 states and medically legal in 30 states. Over half of our country recognizes the benefits of the world’s oldest medicine. Instagram seems to prefer opioids. Inflammatory? Yes. Truth? Yes.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Cannabis is growing at 445% per year (the industry).

  • There are 165,000 jobs directly in cannabis and tens of thousands in ancillary work (security, lighting, power, banking, storefronts, marketing, etc.). 

  • John Boehner, a Republican and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, now sits on the board of a cannabis company.

  • Cannabis will be a 30 billion dollar industry by 2020.

  • Regardless of where you stand on this subject, cannabis is bringing good ol’ American jobs directly into the economy and has the support from all sides of the political spectrum.

Instagram has thousands, if not tens of thousands of marijuana accounts. Some have a few followers, others have millions. Instagram, therefore, receives advertising dollars and revenue based on these accounts and people following these accounts. You are making millions of dollars off this audience. You count this audience. You exploit this audience. You use these numbers for Wall Street projections. Yet, there are no set rules for Instagram and cannabis. Why? Good question with no answer. You can ask Instagram as many times as you want, but they never pick up the phone.

Just this past weekend, we saw yet a purge (another in a long line of mysterious bannings). Without cause, without warning and with no understandable rhyme or reason, some accounts were pulled down. These include cannabis influencers with tens of thousands of followers, who saw no particular change in their social media behavior to elicit a banned account. There is no rhyme, reason or recourse to plead a case. Cannabis is getting competitive, with Instagram, it’s a game of “do you know someone on the inside who can help?” Life isn’t fair, but this seems to be a step over the line. Some stores can’t keep Instagrams up (competitors’ flag and accounts get pulled). Yet…I’ve seen a chain with big bucks behind it advertise, a chain that sells marijuana directly, but has big names in VC funding. Playing favorites Instagram? Seems decidedly so.  

Why then, does this mean Instagram is a hypocrite? Aside from “some accounts say, others go” with no rationale, all of this is happening while McKesson and their ilk still have active accounts open. Why does this matter? 

  • Every day the Opioid crisis claims 115 lives. Every day. Per the SF Chronicle, June 24.

  • U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said pharma companies and drug distributors shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids to the state of Missouri over a six-year period, enough to provide every man, woman and child in the state 260 doses (July 17, 2018) per Bloomberg.

  • Yet McKesson and friends have a free rein to post and advertise with no issues. I’m going to assume no one on their social team must worry over getting banned (or shadow banned, thanks Facebook!) for unknown reasons, without recourse or guidelines. 

Are the legalities in 30 states (and counting) immaterial? Are legal jobs, legal financing, legal sales and a burgeoning industry responsible for tens of billions in the US worth…what? Apparently, it’s worth zero respect, a lack of accountability and refusal to have a viable dialogue. The cannabis industry is the epitome of the American Dream, startups, bootstraps and sleepless nights. 

What do I want from Instagram? What does everyone involved in this industry deserve? Real guidelines, real conversations and perhaps, just perhaps, a little respect.