Instagram continues to frustrate legal cannabis companies in Canada, with what some business owners are deeming to be random and arbitrary enforcement actions.
Leafly spoke with three legal cannabis retailers who have had their accounts deleted in the past few weeks, one a non-medical store in Alberta, one a medical cannabis retailer in Ontario, and the third a non-medical retailer in Toronto.
The actions, they all say, came with no opportunity to appeal or even get details on the decision.
Legal retailers locked out for violating Instagram community guidelines
“Instagram asked me for a phone number change and when that happened and I changed the phone number, it locked me out of the account and said we had violated the community guidelines and then that was that,” explains Roch.
“I can’t even appeal. I found a random email form on Instagram and that’s been the only way to appeal it that I’ve found, but I haven’t heard back anything.”
Roch says he doesn’t have any idea why the account was taken down, but is already creating a new backup account, and reaching out to his followers and customers through other social media channels and via email.
“It doesn’t make a huge impact on our business but it does hurt,” says Rhodes. “We are a legal business following the rules and although we don’t rely on Instagram for anything specific, it is a great way to reach a certain demographic of the population.
“Going forward we will continue to use Instagram and facebook but will make a concerted effort to use other social media platforms that do not discriminate against legal entities as our primary focus.”
Navigating Instagram isn’t easy for legal cannabis companies
Angelo Muscari, the co-founder of Hybrid Pharm in Ontario, a pharmacy that provides access to cannabis for medical purposes, says their Instagram account recently suffered the same fate. Like Roch, he says he woke up to a message from Instagram saying his account had been deleted and provided no opportunity to challenge the decision.
“It’s a big circle of nowhere,” says Muscari about opportunities to appeal the deletion. “All the links just send you back to a help centre or FAQ section. There’s no number, no email, nowhere to make a veto decision. It’s very complicated and frustrating.”
Instagram provided no response to a request for comment. Their Terms of Services states that it does not allow “people or organizations to use their platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country.” Their terms of service also states that if you have had an account removed for a violation of Instagram’s policy, you cannot open a new account.
Numerous legal and illegal cannabis companies have thrived for years on the platform and enforcement appears arbitrary, at best. Muscari says he suspects it could be the result of people reporting accounts to get them taken down, rather than proactive enforcement by Instagram.
“Honestly at this point, I do think that’s what happened. Somebody is just a little hurt or offended or just maybe not the biggest fan.”
Muscari says he managed several Instagram accounts for different cannabis companies and has had individual posts removed, or been given warnings, but this is the first time he’s faced an account being deleted. Unlike those other actions, which he considers more of a slap on the wrist, this decision is permanent and cannot be challenged.
“Unlike having your account put on hold for a bit, the message I got said ‘your account has been deleted for not following our terms. You won’t be able to log into this account and no one will be able to see it. We’re unable to restore accounts that are deleted for these types of violations.”
“I think the biggest thing for anyone who has had their account taken away like this, is just why? If you can at least have a human call or email sent to say this is the violation would really bring some clarity so I don’t make that mistake in the future.”
Roch, of Lake City Cannabis, says he’s learned not to rely on just one Instagram account, or just one social media platform.
“If anything, my tale is a cautionary one,” says Roch. “Everyone should be preparing to be taken down. Maybe that means having multiple accounts, making sure you have an email list of your customers, making sure you have other ways they can communicate with you, making sure you’re taking the time into those other channels and mediums.”
Roch says his store’s Instagram account was restored on Friday the 20th, although no explanation was provided. The same day, his store’s Facebook page received a three-day ban after sharing a cross-post from his re-instated Instagram account. Facebook owns Instagram.
Even though it’s frustrating, Muscari also says that with social media being such a popular mode of communication, he has no choice but to start a new account.
“As much as I would love to give up on social, we have no choice but to start over,” he says. “We live in a time now where social media controls a lot of what people see and what people think and how they obtain their education, their access to information. Any company not willing to restart, I think it would be another nail in their coffin, unfortunately.”