Instagram's War on Drugs

Will the app ever warm up to weed?

The Broccoli Report 
Monday, Dec 14, 2020
Time to read: 6 minutes, 16 seconds. 1254 words.

Good morning, and good new moon to all! ‘Tis the time of the month to manifest something great. ✨

Today, we’re addressing the double-tapping elephant in the room: Instagram’s continued weirdness with weed. Because even after so many states and countries legalize, and so many companies operate around weed but never touch it, the app continues to fight very hard against normalizing the legal industry—which was made all the clearer with the recent “Shop” update on the platform.

I’ll be back on Friday to talk about 2021 smoking trends and opportunities for products to adapt to consumers’ new normals. There is immense potential for innovations that better serve quarantined lifestyles, and people (a.k.a. me) would be very happy to pay top dollar for a couple of them in particular. If you haven’t already, subscribe for Friday newsletters.

Instagram’s War On Drugs: Will the social media platform ever warm up to weed?

Instagram’s recent homepage redesign put the app’s shopping function front and center. The new “Shop” feed features curated products and brands that appeal to each user’s tastes, giving small businesses better visibility to specific, interested customers. That is, unless you have anything to do with weed.

Licensed Canadian brand Superette was denied access to the Shop function for their merch and accessories. So was Pot Plant, a maker of fake cannabis plant decor—that is, until they agreed to remove every instance of “cannabis,” “marijuana,” and “smoking accessories” from their linked website. Afraid of getting their account frozen or deleted like many other cannabis-related brands, CBD brand Rosebud hasn’t followed through with setting up an IG shop at all yet. 

Rosebud’s concerns are valid. Regardless of the 100% legal nature of their hemp-derived CBD offerings—and Pot Plants’ decorative fake plants and Superette’s branded sweatshirts, for that matter—Instagram remains super uptight about weed-adjacent content. 

Because cannabis remains federally illegal in the U.S., banks continue to avoid working with cannabis-related businesses. The same goes for most merchant processors. Some processors charge a premium to work with what they deem “high-risk” cannabis-related businesses, as we touched on in an interview with Barbari, the herbal blend brand whose website was shut down on launch day. These skittish banks and payment processors leave merch and non-weed supplies sold by weed-adjacent brands in a precarious grey space. 

Bottom line: If weed becomes federally legal, some of these problems may solve themselves (as well as introduce new challenges for the industry). Until then, cannabis-related online sales continue to operate in an uneasy state of limbo. Maybe you’ll get an IG shop set up no problem, and maybe posting coffee mugs with a weed motif to an IG shop gets it taken down. Much like getting blue-check verified, it’s difficult to discern any rhyme or reason as to why some accounts get a pass, and others get deleted. If you open an IG shop and manage to get it going, it may not last. This is the uncertainty we live with in the weed world.

And now, because we want to believe Instagram still serves other purposes beyond e-commerce, here are a few of our favorite people whose accounts we love to follow—no shop required.

One-Hitters: Cannabis News at a Glance

  • In Massachusetts, a 96-year-old WWII vet joins the ranks of proud Black dispensary owners with the opening of Western Front in the city of Chelsea. Marvin Gilmore was a recipient of the French Legion of Honor, founded OneUnited Bank, engaged in civil rights activism, and, to my knowledge, is now the oldest entrepreneur in legal weed. Cheers to you, Marvin!

  • The French-inspired, Nevada-based edible brand Hervé launches Le Mirage: infused hard candies and a custom reusable dispenser for portability and accurate doses (like a bougie, sustainable PEZ). 

  • When esteemed actor Yusuke Iseya was charged with cannabis possession in September, the popular reaction signaled that Japanese attitudes toward weed might be changing. Similar cases in the past have led to mass condemnation and deeply remorseful public apologies. This time, Iseya’s co-star on an upcoming film—75-year-old Sayuri Yoshinaga, basically the Meryl Streep of Japanese cinema—spoke up on his behalf, saying she loved working with him and looked forward to having him back on set. Daytime talk show hosts and news analysts dedicated airtime to discussing modern marijuana policies in other countries. Prosecutors are seeking a one-year jail sentence, and the court will hand down its ruling later this month. If Iseya’s lawyers can get the sentence suspended, it could signal a major shift for cannabis culture in Japan. 

  • New Jersey legislature nails down details of its new adult-use rules, which allocate an impressive 70% of the state’s 6.625% sales tax to a social equity fund. Next week, legislators will vote on two bills that include a decriminalization measure dropping pending possession charges and an extra social equity tax with generated revenue earmarked for “impact zones where populations have suffered the most from possession enforcement.” If passed, the program would roll out at the start of 2021.

  • A San Luis Obispo construction contractor is suing California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control for approving cannabis advertising on billboards along highways previously interpreted to be off-limits. The plaintiff is father to a 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. Though cannabis advertising is legal elsewhere in cities, he points out that the initial law promised not to advertise on major freeways. This brings up an issue that our generation will have to tackle: how to best talk to our kids and teens about weed in a thoughtful way, without enforcing the stigma.

  • Brother David’s, the nonprofit cannabis brand founded by David Bronner (yes, of Dr. Bronner’s soap), expands into Oregon with a line of cannabis and hemp blends. They’re partnering with Portland-based manufacturer Luminous Botanicals to source flower from Sun+Earth Certified, small-scale cannabis farmers in Oregon. All profits from Brother David’s support “those working to better the land, lives, and communities of our cannabis family—farmers, activists, medical researchers, and all who have struggled under the unjust criminalization of cannabis.” It’s a big deal to be a nonprofit weed brand, but we wish Brother David’s offered more transparent information on where exactly the funds go.

  • New edible brand Mammamia launches in Los Angeles with Italian treats based on classic recipes infused with a cannabis profile specifically designed to re-create the vibe of specific regions and cities. See you in Capri! 🏞

I’ll see you again on Friday or Monday, depending on your subscription level. If you’re on the free plan and want a double-dip of Broccoli Report content each week, subscribe to get access.

Have a great week,
Lauren Yoshiko