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Twitter Tags Cannabis With SAMHSA Message

Twitter Tags Cannabis With SAMHSA Message

Posted by Lori Ann Reese on 09/29/2020 in News

Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Twitter Advertising Medical Cannabis

Twitter came under public scrutiny and backlash in early September, for an educational initiative that seemed to target the cannabis industry exclusively. It is yet another example of how the lack of federal endorsement of medical marijuana impacts dispensaries and advertising options.

Twitter announced that it had partnered with SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration). Any post on Twitter that mentions cannabis, medical cannabis, smoking cannabis, and cannabis products like pre-rolls, edibles, etc. are now flagged with a message:

“Help is available. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. Our partner SAMHSA 1-800-662-4357, can help.”

Curiously, Twitter decided to flag only adult-use and medical cannabis-related posts with the SAMHSA note. Posts promoting alcohol products and use were not similarly targeted in the campaign and are not tagged with an addiction warning. 

The Federal Government Bans Grants to Fund Addiction Therapies Using Cannabis

As the federal government agencies open the door to support addiction therapies, it slammed the door in an announcement in October 2019 to cannabis therapeutics. 

Grant funds may not be used, directly or indirectly, to purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana. Treatment in this context includes the treatment of opioid use disorder. Grant funds also cannot be provided to any individual who or organization that provides or permits marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders. See, e.g., 45 C.F.R. § 75.300(a) (requiring HHS to “ensure that Federal funding is expended . . . in full accordance with U.S. statutory . . . requirements.”); 21 U.S.C. §§812(c) (10) and 841 (prohibiting the possession, manufacture, sale, purchase or distribution of marijuana). This prohibition does not apply to those providing such treatment in the context of clinical research permitted by the DEA and under an FDA-approved investigational new drug application where the article being evaluated is marijuana or a constituent thereof that is otherwise a banned controlled substance under federal law.

Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Funding Opportunity Announcement, December 16, 2019.

Apparently, addiction treatments can include prescription medications and psychotherapy, but not cannabis. And the U.S. federal government also moved to block funding for cannabis-related mental health treatments.

U.S. Tech Industries Like Twitter Unite for TechTogether for Addiction Awareness and Supports

In April 2020, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter announced that they had partnered with the non-profit Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. The program is called ‘Tech Together,’ and the website TechTogether.co is an initiative to support individuals struggling with alcoholism and addiction. 

Dispensary Marketing, Marijuana Doctors

The Tech Together program leverages the #RecoveryMovement hashtag to draw attention to addiction resources during the Covid-19 global health emergency. One of the goals of the plan (according to the website) is to help end the stigma of addiction.

Curiously, Twitter decided to flag only adult-use and medical cannabis-related posts with the SAMHSA note. Posts promoting alcohol products and use were not similarly targeted in the campaign and are not tagged with an addiction warning. 

Alcoholism is the third highest and preventable disease that kills almost 90,000 Americans every year. In 2018, 47.8% of the 83,517 liver disease deaths in the United States were attributed to alcohol abuse. To date, there has not been one recorded incident of an overdose fatality, where cannabis was the sole source of intoxication.

The Marketing Potential for Dispensaries to Advertise on Facebook and Instagram

Facebook owns Instagram. When it comes to social media policies and the algorithms that determine what posts get seen (and which are harder to find), cannabis content takes a hit. A bad kind of hit. A bias that makes it hard for medical marijuana dispensaries to advertise their services.

There are a number of reasons why dispensaries want to expand their marketing opportunities on Facebook and Instagram. The platform can reach millions of people, and also allow businesses to target their advertising (through a business account) to their ideal target market. 

Using geotags (location) and demographic information like age and gender. Advertising through Facebook and Instagram also provides tools that help dispensaries find people (locally) who are interested in topics like chronic pain, wellness, and cannabis.

By 2025, Facebook forecasts that there will be 235.15 million daily active users from the United States on the social network. According to Statistica, there are 223.3 million active American users on Facebook in 2020.

There are 120.7 million Americans that use Instagram for just under 40 minutes per day. Thirty-seven percent of Instagram users are based in the United States. The average age of American Instagram users is 25-34 years.

Facebook and Instagram remain the best social media networks for advertising any kind of product or service to American consumers. And for medical cannabis dispensaries, social media advertising is one of the most economical and effective ways to connect to patients looking for medical marijuana. 

Both platforms also provide an e-commerce option for product merchants. But not if medical cannabis is the state-legalized product that you sell.

Instagram and Facebook Suppress Posts from Cannabis Touching Businesses

There are two broad categories of cannabis businesses. Cultivators, processors, and dispensary retailers are considered to be ‘plant-touching’ enterprises. If any aspect of your business involves producing cannabis and selling it for profit, you are generally barred from virtually every online advertising platform, including sponsored advertising on social media networks.

However, your business may be related to the cannabis industry, but not ‘plant-touching.’ Businesses that provide educational or marketing services to cannabis businesses fit in this category. Companies that produce accessories (pipes, grinders, vape manufacturers, rolling paper products) do not sell cannabis. They are considered ancillary businesses and may be exempted from many of the advertising restrictions.

SAMHSA, Advertising Cannabis, Dispensary Marketing, Marijuana Doctors

Trucking companies? Technically they are an ancillary service; however, they can be restricted from advertising specialty logistics services to dispensaries because they do handle cannabis. Cannabis delivery companies (in states where home delivery is legalized) face the same restrictions and bias.

Inconsistency in Flagged Content on Social Media

Behind every large social media network is a complex design of bots and algorithms. Since it is impossible for human beings to monitor millions of pieces of content that is shared on social daily, the job is left to software to police.

Networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have created software that will detect the use of specific terms or words. Then the content is flagged automatically and sometimes removed if it violates the social network terms of service and advertising. Instead of your post, you will see a warning message that indicates the content violated terms of use and was removed. Repeat violations of inappropriate content can result in a deletion of the account. 

Prescription drugs and recreational drugs or drug-related product advertising is not permitted.

Standalone imagery of medical cannabis is allowed in the feed (page content) but not in advertising imagery. Ads with cannabis images will be automatically disapproved.

Frequent disapproved advertisements will lower the businesses’ trust score on Facebook. When that happens, Facebook (and Instagram) significantly restrict advertising options.

How many times have you seen a liquor advertisement on Facebook or Instagram? Alcohol is a controlled substance too. Facebook and Instagram prohibit advertising to minors, which makes sense. And alcohol beverage ads must show responsible use, and not encourage abuse of alcohol in the imagery, video, or text of the sponsored ad.

Facebook maintains that because cannabis is not federally legalized, it does not want to promote cannabis sales. Even from licensed medical dispensaries.

Learn About Advertising Restrictions and Best Practice for Dispensaries on Facebook Blueprint

If you are a cannabis dispensary, learn the advertising restrictions and terms of service on Facebook before you start experimenting with special offers, video, or graphic ads. The algorithm is not always perfect. Some companies have managed to have subtle advertisements approved for cannabis products. However, even one complaint from a public user about the content can flag your business. Multiple violations advertising cannabis can even result in a suspension of the page owner from Facebook or a lifetime ban from the social network. 

 Addiction Therapies, Advertising Cannabis, Dispensary Marketing, Marijuana Doctors

There have been circumstances where a dispensary created three advertisements at the same time. All three were approved and began to circulate. By the time the algorithm detected the prohibited marijuana content, three infractions were enough to delete the business page. An established Facebook page with thousands of followers and a valuable marketing asset for the dispensary was gone. With no recourse available for the page owner.

Have you heard of Facebook Blueprint? It is a learning portal that has all the information that advertisers need to understand before creating sponsored campaigns. It is also free. Register your business and go through the advertising best-practice training pages. You will also get some valuable tips on organic content marketing.

No Information on MarijuanaDoctors.Com should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. You can view our Full Disclaimer here.

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