Facebook blocks some Arizona marijuana dispensary pages from site

Blythe Huestis, manager of Natural Selections, looks through the display case in her Arizona facility. The dispensary carries a multitude of cannabis products from flower or bud to cookies and infused tea. (Photo by Sean Logan/News21)

Marijuana products are shown in a display counter at Natural Selections, a medical marijuana dispensary in Cave Creek.
(Photo by Sean Logan/News21)

One Scottsdale medical marijuana’s Facebook page features a video titled “Alcohol v. Marijuana” with a cameo by Snoop Dogg.

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A Yuma dispensary promotes a “Wednesday only” sale, featuring the strain “CBD Yummy” for $10 a gram.

And a Phoenix dispensary highlights “Tangerine Dream,” its strain of the week.

However, Facebook users may have a hard time finding some of these dispensary pages in the future. Instead, they might see this: “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now.”

Facebook has started to delete business pages of marijuana dispensaries.

Earlier this month, dispensary owners and patients in New Jersey noticed the pages disappearing, according to media reports. And Arizona dispensaries have followed.

“It was just kind of without warning,” said Paul Morris, regional manager of Giving Tree Wellness Center in Mesa. “It just came up, and so of course, I appealed it. And about a day-and-a-half later, it was adios muchacho. It was completely erased.”

Morris said he found the deletion of the page especially frustrating because of how useful Facebook has been in getting Giving Tree Wellness’ name out into the public eye.

“Facebook has been invaluable,” Morris said. “It’s not so much about sales really, and it is about our voice being silenced and our freedom of speech really being aborted, and the freedom of choice for the patients because you can like a page. You can unlike a page. You don’t have to see the content that we’re displaying.”

Arizona voters approved the state’s medical marijuana system in 2010. The state has more than 87,000 active cardholders, according to the Department of Health Services. And more than 19.2 tons of marijuana has been sold.

Facebook’s terms of service states ads must not promote the sale or use of “illegal, prescription or recreational drugs.”

Jessica Smith, a volunteer for Keep AZ Drug Free, agreed with Facebook’s decision. She said dispensaries have no business being on the social network.

“I don’t see the upside of advertising on Facebook or any social networking for that matter,” Smith said.

“With that product, who are they targeting?” Smith said. “Why is it not a closed audience? Why are they not regulating, in fact, who can see it?”

Morris said his company used Facebook to get in touch with the community.

“It was really a tool – a unique tool, I think – to be able to share the message that we’re trying to share with our community,” Morris said.

Morris said Giving Tree Wellness raised money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. The diseases are qualifying conditions to receive a medical marijuana card.

“The people that come in (the dispensary), for the most part, are suffering from real medical need,” Morris said. “So what we’re sharing on Facebook is information and education. We’re trying to outreach and get people in this community to get together and support these causes that are so important.”

Because the marijuana industry is still in its infancy, the rules and regulations surrounding advertising are murky.

A recent article that appeared in the American Bar Association’s journal called the issue problematic. And although recent Department of Justice policies have reduced the risk of prosecution for advertisers, there are no guarantees, according to the article.

The article also mentioned that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates materials on broadcast and radio, “probably will not take a position until it is forced to, which has not happened yet.”

A spokeswoman with the Arizona Department of Health Services said in an email that the department does not regulate advertising for dispensaries. But it does prohibit dispensaries from using vehicles that have any medical marijuana identification during transportation.

This isn’t the first obstacle Giving Tree Wellness and other dispensaries have faced given the fact that marijuana remains federally illegal.

“We have come up on so many roadblocks – from banking, to having credit cards, to advertising, to just being a mainstream product out there,” Morris said. “It’s understandable. We’re still living under this federal cloud of prohibition.”

Nevertheless, Morris plans to continue to operate as normal despite the setback on Facebook.

Another Giving Tree Wellness Facebook page is up on the site with a less “cannabis focused” appearance. Morris said he hopes this page will not suffer the same fate as the original. But he remains optimistic about his dispensary.

“Any dispensary is going to go on if we don’t have a Facebook account,” Morris said. “It’s not going to impact our sales, necessarily. The focus of those kinds of things is for the benefit of the patients.”