Something’s up with Facebook and marijuana—again.
Recently, pages with “marijuana” and “cannabis” in their names stopped appearing in search results.
The pages are still active and can be found via direct links, but users without the URLs or bookmarks are out of luck, leading to questions about whether the social network is “shadow banning” the pages.
Facebook has yet to offer an explanation for this snafu, which is, for example, affecting the page for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, the official government agency that regulates the state’s multi billion-dollar industry, as well as cannabis-focused media outlets like Marijuana Moment and Marijuana Business Daily and nonprofit advocacy groups like the Marijuana Policy Project.
— Sylvia Chi, Esq. (@sylviachiesq) July 31, 2018
A “shadow ban” is the term used for when a user’s web resource–a social-media page or a web-forum post–isn’t deleted or blocked, but is only visible to the individual user.
Since 2014, when legal marijuana marketplaces opened up in Washington and Colorado, all major social networks declared cannabis-related ads verboten. To this day, significant limitations remain.
Advertisements for marijuana businesses or advocating cannabis use are regularly blocked on Facebook and other social-media websites—including Instagram, which is also a Facebook property—for violating community standards, which ban the sale of “illegal drugs.”
Algorithms often block promotions for news articles or other noncommercial posts that merely mention “marijuana” or “cannabis,” a situation that often requires lengthy appeals processes to clear automatically flagged content that doesn’t actually violate terms of service.
But this may be the first time access to a government agency’s marijuana-related page has been interrupted in this way.
In this case, the disruption is significant: Marijuana industry attorneys, entrepreneurs and businesspeople rely on BCC’s Facebook page for notices of upcoming meetings and for easy access to the latest iteration of the state’s lengthy and complication rules for the marijuana industry.
BCC staff are aware of the issue and have contacted Facebook for an explanation, but have yet to receive one.
“We have reached out to Facebook with no response so far,” BCC spokesman Alex Traverso said in an email to Marijuana Moment. “This is the first time something like this has happened. In fact, we’ve even done promoted posts on Facebook before without any issue.”
Reached via email, a spokesperson for Facebook asked for more information about the situation. After it was provided, the spokesperson did not respond to further requests for comment.
“It’s clear that something’s happened,” said Sylvia Chi, an Oakland, California-based attorney with clients in the marijuana space. “But it’s not clear what.”
It's not just BCC; this "shadowban" seems to work by not surfacing any page that has "cannabis" or "marijuana" in the title through Facebook's search, EXCEPT on the Facebook app for iOS. Other affected pages include @NCIAorg @MarijuanaPolicy, @MarijuanaMoment, and @MJBizDaily.
— Sylvia Chi, Esq. (@sylviachiesq) August 1, 2018
Users accessing Facebook via the iOS app have been able to find cannabis-related pages they already follow on the main search results tab, but tapping the “Pages” tab yields an empty result.
Chi theorized that the snafu is a “bug” or glitch rather than a conscious choice to de-list or shadow ban marijuana pages.
Facebook has in the past been criticized for inconsistent, incoherent and unrealistic community guidelines. Until 2016, users were able to conduct firearms transactions. And critics have faulted the social network for its inability to police hate speech, including posts and pages from white-supremacist organizations.
“I think their community standards around marijuana are problematic,” said Chi, who noted Facebook had earlier this year updated its guidelines to prohibit minors from seeing advertisements of gun accessories. “It seems like they could do the same thing for marijuana, but just don’t want to.”
Marijuana Trade Group Demands Action Against Unlicensed Los Angeles Dispensaries
Unlicensed marijuana dispensaries abound in Los Angeles, and a major cannabis trade association is calling on the local prosecutor to step up enforcement efforts.
In a letter sent to City Attorney Mike Feuer, the United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA) says it is concerned that “illegal retail cannabis operations are continuing to flourish and proliferate” and that existing medical marijuana dispensaries “are struggling financially in the face of competition from illegal dispensaries.”
The group, which represents licensed medical cannabis dispensaries throughout the city, requested information about how the local government is handling the situation.
“The UCBA is looking for answers and actions from City Attorney Feuer to ensure safety for workers and residents across the city and to protect the city’s much needed revenue,” UCBA executive director Ruben Honig said in a press release this week. “We are greatly concerned that illegal cannabis dispensaries continue to operate and proliferate in Los Angeles and urge him to crack down on rampant illegal cannabis operations.”
Of course, cracking down on the hundreds of unlicensed dispensaries operating in the city is easier said than done. And the city attorney’s office has moved to enforce local marijuana ordinances in waves this year. In September, for example, the office announced that more than 500 people were charged for running 105 illicit dispensaries.
It’s not quite as simple as shutting down unlicensed marijuana shops, though. Cannabis laws are constantly evolving in Los Angeles, and keeping up with the latest regulatory policies has proved challenging for many previously licensed dispensaries.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) said it agrees that the city attorney’s office should “enforce the law and the new regulatory structure,” but that enforcement “should be transparent, and should focus initially on the traditional criminal element more than on currently unlicensed businesses that have been operating for years without incident in compliance with the old system.”
“This is a perfect example of the problem with arbitrary license caps,” NCIA media relations director Morgan Fox wrote to Marijuana Moment in an email. “I’m not extremely familiar with the LA licensing scheme regarding existing businesses, but I’ve heard that it was very restrictive, very limited and resulted in the exclusion of many smaller and/or minority-owned companies.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Feuer’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Nearby Marijuana Shops Make Homes And Rentals More Valuable, Studies Show
When a shop selling marijuana opens (or closes), there’s a direct impact on housing and rental prices in the surrounding area, according to a pair of recent studies.
Housing prices for new homes increase by 7.7 percent on average if they’re located within a quarter mile of a new dispensary.
A study published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy evaluated how the price of new homes in Denver, Colorado, changes when a cannabis dispensary opens up nearby. Researchers compared the prices of homes before and after a dispensary opened within .25 miles, .25-.5 miles and .5-.75 miles.
When new dispensaries opened within .25 miles, housing prices jumped 7.7 percent on average. There was still a 4.7 percent increase for homes located within .5 miles, but the effect “disappears entirely” for houses that are further than .5 miles from a new dispensary. The researchers also found that the effect was slightly more pronounced if the dispensary was the first to the area.
“Our results suggest that despite potential costs, legalization is capitalized as a net benefit in housing prices,” the researchers wrote.
Interestingly, new dispensaries seem to have about the same impact on housing prices as new grocery stores, the study found. But the “mechanisms through which grocery stores affect housing prices are more obvious than dispensaries.”
“If public sentiment surrounding marijuana is positive, homebuyers may also prefer to select into neighborhoods with more dispensaries for convenience. Ultimately however, our data do not allow us to directly determine the underlying mechanisms driving this result, so these potential explanations should be considered speculative.”
Losing a marijuana coffeeshop causes a three percent decrease in Airbnb rental prices.
Amsterdam’s famous cannabis coffeeshops are known tourist attractions, but what happens when one shuts down? For his master’s dissertation, doctoral student Igor Goncalves Koehne de Castro identified at least one collateral effect: Rental costs on Airbnb drop by about three percent on average if the closure was within 250 meters of the lodging.
If the coffeeshop was further than 250 meters, rental prices didn’t change significantly.
There were plenty of examples for de Castro to study, which spanned from 2014 to 2017, because several coffeeshops have closed in response to new laws in recent years, including one in Amsterdam that prohibits the shops from operating within 250 meters of a school.
After controlling for other possible factors, de Castro developed a series of models based on Airbnb data on rental prices over time and their proximity to recently closed coffeeshops. The study revealed that these shops “present a positive impact” on rental prices for lodgings close to the shops—presumably because people who rent through Airbnb are “tourists” who are “sensitive to distances.”
“The findings of this study suggest that, for the city of Amsterdam, the de facto legalization of cannabis actually has a positive externality,” de Castro wrote. “This result puts new evidence to the debate of drug laws and policies, a matter that still lacks data and research.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Major Alcohol Association Briefs Congress On Marijuana Legalization
One of the nation’s leading alcohol industry associations held a briefing on Capitol Hill on Friday to tell lawmakers and congressional staffers about its position on marijuana legalization.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) became the first major alcohol association to call for the end of federal cannabis prohibition in July. At last week’s briefing, the group reaffirmed that stance, emphasizing that the federal government should allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
A representative from the group also suggested that the cannabis market could take lessons from the current regulatory approach to alcohol, including when it comes to distribution and quality control testing, one person who attended the event told Marijuana Moment. There was also a conversation about developing technologies to detect active impairment from marijuana on the roads.
In a one-sheet overview distributed at the briefing, WSWA wrote that the industry’s regulatory structure “should ensure product safety, discourage underage access, create an effective tax collection regime and encourage innovation and choice for consumers, while at the same time eliminating diversion of cannabis to other states.”
WSWA then outlines a series of recommendations—from implementing impaired driving standards to testing product formulas.
Read WSWA’s full list of marijuana policy recommendations below:
For the most part, the recommendations align with existing regulatory models in legal states. Where the alcohol and marijuana industries might have disagreements, though, is with WSWA’s opposition to vertical integration, under which one company manages more than one area of production and distribution that could otherwise be delegated to other businesses.
The alcohol industry generally operates under a three-tier system in the U.S., through which separate operators handle production, wholesaling and retail sales. Some have suggested that the alcohol industry wants the cannabis market to adopt its approach so that existing businesses like beer, wind and liquor distributors can profit from legal marijuana as well. But Dawson Hobbs, WSWA senior vice president of government relations, denied as much when the association made its initial announcement earlier this year.
“No, what we’re talking about is just creating a pathway for states to have federal recognition of legalization by enacting appropriate regulation that creates a safe and reliable marketplace,” Hobbs said at the time.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.