Pubdate: Thu, 13 Jul 2017
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 2017 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: P.O. Box 1909, Seattle, WA 98111-1909
Author: Becky Bohrer


JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Facebook has shut down pages set up by several
businesses licensed to legally sell marijuana in Alaska, severing what
some shop owners consider a critical link to their customers.

The social media giant said its standards describe what users can
post, and content promoting marijuana sales isn't allowed. The issue
has popped up over the last few years in states that have legalized
recreational and medical pot, often coming in waves, industry
officials said.

Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry
Association, said the industry has been forced to fight the same
battles repeatedly as marijuana gains broader acceptance nationally.

The drug is legal for recreational use in eight states, but it remains
illegal on the federal level. It wasn't clear why the crackdown in
Alaska happened within the past couple weeks or what specifically
prompted it.

But it comes as social media sites grapple with setting boundaries for
what users can post. Twitter has announced efforts to address abusive
behavior, while Facebook has said it would do more to help keep
violent material and hate speech off the platform.

Jana Weltzin, an Anchorage-based attorney who works with the cannabis
industry, said pulling Facebook pages of marijuana businesses "has an
incredibly negative, chilling effect on the commercial speech of these

TV and radio stations often do not allow marijuana advertising, so
social media is a way for businesses to communicate directly with
their consumers, she said. In Alaska, rules for pot advertising are
unclear and inconsistent, Weltzin said.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry
Association, said her organization has sought clear guidelines from
Facebook without much success.

She suggests affected businesses appeal their account suspensions or
deletions to Facebook and press for more information. In the past,
that has yielded mixed results, she said.

"In some cases, people never hear back. In other cases, they get their
accounts back, fully restored," West said.

For Leah Levinton's pot business, Enlighten Alaska, there was no
advance warning that the Facebook page would be taken down.

She wasn't sure how much it has affected the Anchorage business but
said the shop has fielded calls from people who saw the page was down
and wanted to know if the shop was still open.

"It's just frustrating," she said, noting that the industry already
faces a number of restrictions. "We're already so limited that when
something else that is almost like a privilege is taken away, it's
just like, what do you do?"

She does not want to contact Facebook for fear that her page - with
its followers and content - will be deleted. She worries, too, that
it's only a matter of time before its Instagram account is shut down.
Facebook owns the photo-sharing site.

James Barrett, co-owner of Rainforest Farms in Juneau, said his
business pre-emptively took down its Facebook page when it saw what
was happening. It has about 2,000 followers and doesn't want to lose

He said the business wants to see if Facebook provides more clarity
when it comes to pot-related posts.

Rainforest Farms doesn't post prices, gears its advertising to those
older than 21, and often uses the site to let people know when they're
open, he said.

It has other ways to reach consumers, including a website, an email
distribution list and a hotline.

"But a lot of people use Facebook," he said. "It's a tool in their
pocket. They want to see what's going on, they're in an area. They
rely on Facebook for that kind of stuff."
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MAP posted-by: Matt