Facebook's Advertising Restrictions Don't Apply to Grey Market Cannabis Companies

Facebook’s advertising restrictions don’t allow licensed producers and legal cannabis companies to run advertisements on its platform. While it may have stopped most legal cannabis companies from advertising there, it hasn’t stopped the illegal ones.

The grey market, whose sales must have taken a hit since the government started taking customers on 10/17, have been able to successfully run ads. They have done so by taking a few steps to fool Facebook into thinking they’re selling anything but cannabis.

Fake Pages Selling Illegal Cannabis

In this case, the ads are being served from a page that claims it sells fitness accessories and directs people to a landing page with URL is disguised as a breakfast recipe.

On the landing page is an obviously fake CBC article that falsely states that buying cannabis from online dispensaries is legal and they recommend CheapBuds. The comments section are all fake Facebook profiles commenting about how this site is the best way to buy cannabis and there’s even a discount code. Essentially, the entire landing page is a very illegal advertisement for an illegal business.

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So how did this advertisement make its way onto Facebook’s newsfeed?

To get a better understanding, we’ll have to take a look at Facebook’s advertising policies.

Facebook’s Stance on Advertising Cannabis

Facebook has taken a very strong stance against products that are considered unhealthy.

For instance, take a look at their policies for tobacco, drugs and drug-related products:

Facebook’s Tobacco Products Policy

Ads must not promote the sale or use of tobacco products and related paraphernalia.

Allowed:

  • Blogs or groups connecting people with tobacco-related interests, as long as the service does not lead to the sale of tobacco or tobacco-related products

  • Anti-smoking campaigns and e-books, counseling services for smoking addiction, and smoking rehabilitation programs or facilities

Prohibited:

  • Tobacco or tobacco-related products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, tobacco pipes, hookahs, hookah lounges, rolling papers, vaporized delivery devices, and electronic cigarettes

  • "Buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes here today!"

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Facebook’s Drugs & Drug-Related Products Policy

Ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs.

Prohibited:

  • Drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling papers, and vaporized delivery devices

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The use of cannabis as images for sale purposes is pretty clearly against the rules. So what are the possible repercussions of running these ads?

Aside from the legal issue of selling illegal cannabis, the best case for these pages is to have the ads removed and worst case is they have their accounts shut down.

The Problem with Illegal Cannabis Ads on Facebook

Now for most businesses, the threat of having their account shutdown means losing the audience they’ve worked so hard to build. But the pages running the prohibited ads for the illegal business aren’t worried about the account being shut down, because it was never theirs, to begin with.

Grey market cannabis companies create Facebook pages for companies that don’t exist in order to run their ads. The ads were able to bypass Facebook’s inspection process, as they posed like ads for small businesses and made their way into the public, if only for a short time.

How long the ads were able to run for and how many impressions they made are impossible to determine, but they definitely did not lack engagement. Facebook users noticed the inappropriate ads and were quite outspoken about them in the comment section, especially for the ad coming from the kid's toy store. The combination of being an illegal product, breaking Facebook’s advertising policies and being reported by people seeing the ad resulted in both the ads and the pages running them being taken down.

Blatantly breaking Facebook’s advertising rules is certainly a high-risk, low-reward endeavour. They may be able to fool Facebook’s approval algorithm and run ads for a cannabis product or brand for a short amount of time, but it eventually costs their account. It must be a fair price to pay, as these ads keep showing up.

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