Benzinga contacted Facebook in September about the apparent ban on search results for cannabis and marijuana, which was interesting in itself because if a Facebook user searched the words “hash,” “hashish,” “weed” and “pot”, the pages showed up.
READ MORE: Where to buy pot in Canada may be limited on October 17
A Facebook spokeswoman referred to the company’s regulated goods policy, “which explains that we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers, and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, and marijuana,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
Facebook does an about-face
Now, effective October 12, 2018, Facebook users around the world will be able to find cannabis-related pages that carry the company’s “gray” and “blue” verification symbols when using search terms such as “marijuana.”
“We are constantly working to improve our search results so that we minimize the opportunity for people to attempt illicit drug sales while showing content that is allowed on Facebook and is relevant to what you are searching,” Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack said in an emailed statement to MarketWatch. “When searching ‘cannabis’ or ‘marijuana,’ Pages that have been verified for authenticity will now be included in search results.”
The grey confirmations are for businesses and organizations not eligible for the blue confirmation, reserved for brands, celebrities, and media companies.
The gray verification badge lets people know that a Page for a business or organization is authentic. To be eligible for a gray verification badge, you must be an administrator of your business Page and your Page must be published and include a cover photo and profile picture.
Apparently, getting a blue verification is a lot harder because your page would have to represent a celebrity, public figure, sports team, media or entertainment and even then, there is no guarantee that the coveted blue badge will be allowed.
Pollack also noted that the move by Facebook does not represent a lifting of a ban. “I want to clarify that we didn’t lift a ban on searches — in other words, content was available in searches for the terms ‘cannabis’ and ‘marijuana’ before Thursday. What we’ve done now is also make pages that are verified for authenticity available in those search results as well.”
Why is this important?
Before last Thursday, Facebook users could not find Facebook pages for Canadian government entities such as the Ontario Cannabis Store. Facebook users couldn’t access state government pages such as the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.
U.S.-based advocacy and industry groups, such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Cannabis Industry Association, a federal lobbying group, were similarly invisible via cannabis-related terms within Facebook search. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and the anti-cannabis legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), were likewise invisible on Facebook.
“Facebook’s policy change is reflecting the reality that marijuana is already legal in nine states, Washington D.C. and will be legal in Canada next week. I realize its hard for some of these companies to adjust to the new reality. Facebook is experiencing what all institutions are going through —transitioning from when marijuana use was a crime to it being a legitimate enterprise. It isn’t reefer madness anymore,” said attorney Keith Stroup, Founder of NORML, reports Forbes.
Our world is changing quickly, and Facebook’s move is a step in the right direction, just as the social media site’s use of stronger security measures to protect users private information. In 2014, just four countries were looking into legal cannabis, a number that has risen to more than 25 in 2018.
And even though marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law, a number of U.S. states such as California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized recreational pot use for adults, and many more have passed medical marijuana legislation. Facebook’s handling of marijuana content is in line with polls in the U.S. and changing attitudes that reflect the status of the drug.