A few weeks ago, Hannah Smith, a 23-year-old Fort Collins, Colorado, resident who works at her family’s CBD products company, Joy Organics, got a call from her mom, asking why their Facebook page wasn’t working. Her mother assumed the password had been changed, or that someone had switched admin permissions. When Smith tried logging on herself, she found that Facebook had unpublished the Joy Organics Facebook page, flagging the business for “promoting the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals.”
Smith tried to file an appeal, but her claim was denied. She started a petition, which has received nearly 3,000 signatures. When she reached out to contacts in the CBD industry, she learned that many other CBD companies in North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado, and Kentucky had had their Facebook pages shut down. According to the Boston Globe, at least six CBD companies in Massachusetts saw their accounts on Facebook-owned Instagram shut down as well.
In an email on Monday morning, Facebook admitted that its team had erroneously removed CBD and hemp pages.
“We mistakenly removed Pages for hemp and CBD oil that do not violate our policies and we are currently working to restore these Pages,” a spokesperson said.
Smith is dismayed by Facebook’s erroneous characterization of CBD. The nonpsychoactive cannabinoid of marijuana has become a popular ingredient in coffee and dog treats lately, but CBD is far from a prescription pharmaceutical. Proponents boast that CBD has medicinal properties including soothing anxiety, pain, and stress, although there aren’t enough scientific studies on it to make any conclusive claims. The substance is also now a popular subject of discussion since hemp, a species of cannabis plant that CBD can be extracted from, became legal in December thanks to Congress passing the farm bill.
“It was a huge bummer Facebook killed our page right before the holidays,” Smith said in a recent phone interview. “And we had just come up with a whole marketing campaign for our new skincare line.”
Smith was aggressive about filing additional appeals, and over the weekend, the Joy Organics page was finally reinstated. But other CBD companies are still fighting to get Facebook pages back up.
“I don’t understand why Facebook is attacking us now,” said 36-year-old Jamie Johns of Franklin, Tennessee, who owns a franchise of three CBD stores, Hempy’s. “I don’t even sell anything on our Facebook page, we just use it to educate the community and tell them about new products and new studies.”
According to Facebook’s Community Standards about what can and can’t be posted to the platform, the company states that it “prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.” The company’s Pages-Specific Policies also notes that company pages “must not promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals.” Pharmaceuticals are allowed to have Facebook pages, but must obtain permission from the social media company first.
Facebook said it did not believe hemp or CBD companies violated any of these terms, but it did not further explain why its team had removed these pages in the first place. Last week, Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles even penned a letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on behalf of his state’s CBD businesses whose pages were taken down.
"America's hemp farmers and businesses should be celebrated and supported." Just confirmed @KYAgCommish sent this letter to @facebook, urging them to reconsider the practice of limiting hemp companies' access on social media. https://t.co/s3CL5HRc6Y pic.twitter.com/L08y1pquge— Garrett Wymer (@GarrettWKYT) January 4, 2019
The timing of Facebook coming after CBD companies seemed a bit strange to Smith: “I still don’t know what is behind Facebook’s actions. Ignorance? Pharmaceutical industry interests?” she muses.
Several CBD companies told Vox that they don’t believe that Facebook deleted their pages by mistake. One business owner, Sunshine Bickett, who runs Sunshine CBD Vape in Lafayette, Indiana, believes the passing of the farm bill had caused confusion at the company.
“Personally, I think this is happening because they are correlating us with big pharma now that hemp is legal,” Bickett said. “Pharmaceutical companies pay big bucks to be on Facebook, and then there are little guys like us who have pages. Once the farm bill passed, maybe Facebook saw an opportunity to move things around.”
Although the newly passed farm bill made hemp and CBD legal, the state of non-psychoactive cannabinoid is murky at best. After the bill was passed, the FDA issued a statement that its opinions had not changed and that all CBD companies must obtain FDA approval. The association also sent out warning letters to several CBD companies last month, demanding they file with the FDA.
Facebook says it’s working to reestablish all CBD pages on the platform soon, but its latest move shows how complex the world of CBD is going to become. It might have a new legal status, but it will be a while before CBD’s struggles disappear for good.