Until last week, Facebook prevented cannabis-related pages from showing up in its users’ search results. Thirty U.S. states have some type of legal cannabis sales, but Facebook banned the search results to prevent illegal sales of the substance via its platform. On the eve of Canada’s federal legalization of recreational cannabis use, the company changed that policy. Facebook will now show cannabis businesses that have been verified in its system, and users will see a blue or gray verification badge on pages that Facebook has confirmed belong to genuine organizations or businesses.
"It is encouraging to see Facebook taking a more nuanced look at the cannabis industry, distinguishing between illicit drug deals and legitimate businesses operating in the space,” said Bethany Gomez, Director of Research, Brightfield Group, a cannabis and hemp-focused market research firm providing consumer, brand, and market analysis in the industry.
Cannabis executives have felt hamstrung by legal limitations on their marketing activities because states where cannabis is sold have strict regulations on packaging, advertising, and promotional activities. “Most traditional channels are shut off to us,” said Erik Knutson, chief executive of Keef Brands.
Marketing limitations posed by companies like Google and Facebook that go above and beyond what is required by law, have had a significant impact on cannabis companies’ ability to develop their digital presence said Dustin Iannotti. He is co-founder, Artisans on Fire, a cannabis-focused marketing agency. "Creating a strategically sound digital marketing campaign in any industry always begins and ends with Google and Facebook Ads,” he said. “Cannabis brands have had to deal with barriers to this type of marketing since the birth of the industry.”
Now that search results for cannabis-related companies have opened up on Facebook, the industry is hoping for more. "Making the companies searchable is just the first step,” said Shauntel Ludwig, Vice President of Operations, DaVinci a manufacturer of vaporizers and cannabis-use accessories. “We’re hoping that Facebook starts to allow advertising as a next step, as we’re eager to start targeting potential consumers on this platform and others alike.”
The inclusion of cannabis brands on social media also means greater access to consumer data and demographic purchasing information, “which has been a pain point for cannabis businesses to collect in the past,” said Iannotti.
Some see the evolution to advertising and other digital media tools as inevitable. The science of cannabis is growing, and people are looking for information about it, said George Archos, chief executive of Zen Leaf Dispensaries. His company operates storefronts in Illinois, Maryland and Nevada. As legalization expands, “it only makes sense that Facebook would allow licensed cannabis companies to use Facebook ads.”