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Facebook blocks Johnson City coffee shop from advertising CBD oil

Zach Vance • Mar 9, 2019 at 11:45 PM

On Feb. 26, Dos Gatos Coffee Bar owner Dick Nelson was shocked to see an email from Facebook saying it does “not support ads for (his) business model.”

A month earlier, Dos Gatos tried to “boost,” or advertise a Facebook post letting customers know CBD oil could be added to a drink of their choice. The post contained a simple picture of an East Tennessee Hemp Company bottle of CBD oil, with a brief description telling the audience how it could be added to “your favorite drink.”

“(Facebook) refused to let us boost it and said something about you can’t advertise illegal things,” Nelson said. “They didn’t say it was illegal, but they said you can’t advertise illegal things.”

Facebook also disabled Dos Gatos’ advertising account indefinitely, preventing Nelson and Dos Gatos’ social media manager Hannah Huffines from advertising any other posts. Nelson attempted to appeal, but Facebook upheld the decision with little explanation, except citing the post did not follow its advertising policies.

Under Facebook’s advertising policy, it lists 30 categories of “Prohibited Content,” including the sale of body parts, low-quality or disruptive content, drugs and drug-related products, and unsafe supplements.

Although the Johnson City Press could find no mention of CBD in its advertising policy, Facebook spokesperson Veronica Twombly clarified the decision in an email. 

“Our advertising policies explain that ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs. Our policies do not preclude people from discussing cannabis and its potential benefits or advocating for its legality, but content and advertisements that look to promote the sale of cannabis or cannabis-related products, including purchasing medical marijuana cards do violate our policies,” Twombly stated.

“When it comes to hemp and CBD specifically, we allow the advertisement of any non-ingestible hemp products without CBD. Any products that contain ingestible hemp and/or CBD are not currently allowed, nor any products that are ingestible or allude to psychoactive effects. We continue to review our policies over time so we can better understand different perspectives and the impact of our policies on different communities globally.”

As long as CBD, otherwise known as Cannabidiol, is derived from a hemp plant and not a marijuana plant, and its delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration is below 0.3 percent, it’s legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December. Additionally, hemp and hemp-derived products are no longer considered Schedule I controlled substances.

However, current FDA rules still consider CBD an illegal dietary ingredient, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has told lawmakers he would form a working group to revise the CBD regulations.

Since Facebook also owns Instagram, Huffines said Dos Gatos is prevented from advertising on that social media outlet, as well.

“Social media is critical to our presence, and it’s hard enough even with the occasional paid post to know that we’re effectively reaching and engaging with our customers,” Huffines said. “It’s a legal product. The CBD we carry is completely THC free beyond that. What we’re doing is not wrong and being punished in such a long-term way is crazy to me ... Not being able to run online advertisements negatively affects our shop in a real-life way.”

Facebook’s blanket policy forbidding CBD and cannabis-related content has also troubled Safe Access Tennessee President David Hairston, who advocates for medicinal marijuana.

“They routinely block our ads,” Hairston said. “We do not sell or promote any products. we do not promote drug usage. They basically restricted our free speech rights. There is no question about it.”

For example, Hairston attempted to advertise, or “boost,” an editorial from a Tennessee newspaper about marijuana, and it was rejected.

On Sept. 19, Hairston once again attempted to boost a post with an image of Safe Access Tennessee’s purple heart logo and the text, “Go Register to VOTE and Like our Page. We Fight for Patients!! Join Us in Restoring our Medical Freedoms from the cruelty of Prohibition. We are the Tennessee Chapter of the Americans for Safe Access.” A link to Tennessee’s online voter registration website was also part of the post, but it included no mention or reference to marijuana.

Hairston joined 23,978 others in signing a National Cannabis Industry Association petition on Change.org calling for Facebook to stop censoring the marijuana industry, advocacy groups and regulators.

“NCIA itself has also seen our ads and boosted posts rejected, even though we are merely promoting political and educational events such as our annual Lobby Days in Washington D.C. and our regional Quarterly Cannabis Caucuses,” the petition states.

In December, WMCActionNews5 reported three West Tennessee cannabis-related pages, all managed by the same man, were removed from Facebook because they “promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals.” 

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