Pubdate: Thu, 11 Aug 2016
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Column: Weed Between the Lines
Copyright: 2016 Boulder Weekly
Author: Sarah Haas


Every week in the world of cannabis there are timely happenings - new 
legislation, new businesses, new dimensions of social justice 
implications - but there are also more lasting phenomenons, subtly 
evolving undercurrents to the headlines of the ongoing narrative.

One of which is the way social media spaces both accommodate and deny 
cannabis consumers and businesses. Currently Google, Facebook, 
Twitter and Instagram all have bans on cannabis-related advertising.

This represents a change in policy that, as little as two years ago, 
took a much harder stance against cannabis in general and frequently 
blacked out accounts for merely associating with the plant.

Moving away from this prohibitionist stance, the current policies 
allow businesses that comply with state laws to have an online 
presence, and at the same time it prohibits any activity that could 
be conceived of as illegal at the federal level, mainly by engaging 
in interstate promotion or commerce.

Jesse Burns, marketing director of Sweet Grass Kitchen, a 
Denver-based wholesale edible company, says it succinctly: "[Cannabis 
businesses] are guilty until proven innocent where every other 
industry is innocent until proven guilty."

And the company has first-hand experience. Sweet Grass Kitchen's 
Instagram account has been shut down twice due to concerns that the 
company was involved in illicit drug activity or somehow didn't 
qualify as a real business.

In one way, Burns says he understands where social media companies 
are coming from. "They don't want black market sales happening across 
their boards and they are just covering their own butts," he says.

Still, these actions have real consequences for his business. Social 
media is not a fringe part of marketing but central to the way a 
company builds its brand, sells its products and sustains a variety 
of relationships with customers.

"We just want to be able to use [social media] like other 
industries," Burns says. "Now, in internet 3.0, you get instant 
feedback on your product and invaluable user-generated content 
through these channels. For us to have access to those things, like 
everyone else, is extremely valuable."

There are sites that exist to fill the niche created by 
prohibitionist policies, like Boulder-based MassRoots, a social media 
platform specifically for cannabis users and companies. MassRoots 
offers an alternative space for social media communities to form 
around cannabis that legally advertise to users that are over the age 
of 18, mostly over the age of 21.

But the site only offers access to customers already in the folds of 
the cannabis community and does little to reach new market segments 
or to spur change in social perception of cannabis at large.

And, MassRoots faces its own obstacles, too. In the spring, the 
company filed to be listed on NASDAQ but, despite meeting all of the 
major requirements, was rejected due to involvement in illegal activity.

The sentiments of CEO Isaac Dietrich echo those of Burns. "All that 
we are asking is to be evaluated and treated like any other business 
in our same scenario," Dietrich says.

Earlier this year, Lauren Gibbs, founder and president of Rise Above 
Social Strategies that frequently works with cannabis businesses, was 
compelled to write an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as 
published in the Cannabist. She wrote primarily as a business woman 
seeking fair treatment of her industry, but she also wrote as a 
social activist, connecting corporate prejudices toward the cannabis 
industry to the war on drugs that continues to rage.

"In meetings, my clients discuss strategies that land people in jail 
in prohibition states," she writes. "The majority of those people are 
black men who are victims of the racist war on drugs. The political 
winds could shift, but we forge on with a sense of responsibility. If 
business owners are not willing to take these risks, legalization 
will not occur nationwide. Access to medicine will be restricted. The 
war on drugs will keep communities of color oppressed and imprisoned. 
To many of us, cannabis legalization is not just about making money, 
but about using businesses to create a better society."

Social media is a hub of culture, but only if it is allowed to truly 
host the people and relationships that give its networking purpose 
and power to inspire progress. While the situation is far from 
perfect, there is an opportunity for actions of civil disobedience as 
companies and individuals confront the specific and broad 
repercussions of practices rooted in prejudice, hopefully continuing 
to create change.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom