Seattle-based influencer “Cannabess” fights back against Instagram

Seattle-based influencer “Cannabess” fights back against Instagram

In the cannabis industry, everyone knows that Instagram and Facebook frequently delete accounts. Many businesses, brands, and influencers have opened the app, only to discover their profile no longer exists. Now, one cannabis marketing leader is fighting back.

When Bess ‘Cannabess‘ Byers learned that her profile had been removed from Instagram, she managed to get it reactivated. (She filed a series of appeals, and Instagram informed her they’d deactivated it by mistake.) But a week later, her account was deleted again.

While her primary account is out of commission, Bess has been operating a secondary account. Now the marketing professional is publicly taking Instagram to task for its inconsistencies. (Instagram has a more lax policy towards other controlled substances.)

Bess is demanding answers about why the platform has allowed users like the late Lil Peep (RIP) to showcase the abuse of prescription drugs, while legal cannabis businesses are being shut down for showing pictures of their facility.

Pharmaceutical drugs are federally legal, so it seems that Instagram is navigating a fine line between creative expression and promoting drug abuse. Another major difference is that users like Lil Peep do not profit off the sales of pharmaceuticals, and cannabis businesses do profit from what they are marketing.

Maybe the real issue lies in our country’s perception of cannabis as a whole. This is a real pickle for platforms like Instagram. Even if they wanted to allow the content, they’re likely to meet red tape and financial sacrifices at every turn.

Why Are These Accounts Being Shut Down?

Even in states where cannabis is legally available for sale, Instagram has taken a hard stance against marketing the product on their platform. While many users tend to only look to their state’s cannabis regulations when considering advertising, they may overlook the social media guidelines set forth by Instagram and Facebook.

“While this industry is growing, and there is obviously business potential, our guidelines are built around taking a neutral stance,” a representative from the company’s marketing department told me over the phone.

Within the cannabis industry, it’s easy to decry these policies as “anti-cannabis.” Maybe it’s necessary to put aside our personal views (that cannabis helps people, and is one of the least toxic substances on Earth, for example), as we consider the company’s stance.

Last year, Instagram made an official announcement on their cannabis policy. They stated that as long as marijuana is not legal federally, and as long as it’s a highly controlled substance in some states, they will not allow their platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state. Their policy strictly prohibits the sale of cannabis in any aspect. They also prohibit contact information for these businesses. Instagram will, however, allow advocacy of federal legalization of cannabis, as long as it does not promote the sale of cannabis itself. (And it does not provide contact information.)

What counts as “contact information?”

Obviously, your address or phone number. But even adding “CONTACT/DM/EMAIL/MESSAGE US FOR INFO” counts as contact info.

You can’t include the location of your business. If you do, you will be in direct violation of the company’s policies.

Let’s compare cannabis, alcohol and tobacco marketing on social media.

I cringe at comparing cannabis to alcohol or even tobacco, but these analogies can help us understand public opinion and fear over marketing to the youth.


Tobacco products are restricted from advertising and showcasing the use of products on these platforms and control far more dollars than anyone in cannabis. So you could ask, “Why would Instagram allow advertising for cannabis, but not for tobacco?” Tobacco has been used on the American continents long before Europeans landed on Plymouth. Yet one can promote anti-smoking content, but not the sale of any product. This includes hookah, e-cigs, and vaping.


When it comes to “sin taxes,” the United States government seems to take the loosest stance on alcohol.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website states:

“The First Amendment provides substantial protections to speech, and thus substantially limits the government’s ability to regulate truthful, non-deceptive alcohol advertising based on concerns about underage appeal. For this reason, the Federal Trade Commission has long encouraged the alcohol industry to adopt and comply with self-regulatory standards to reduce the extent to which alcohol advertising targets teens, whether by placement or content.”

After reviewing cannabis and tobacco restrictions, it seems the government is okay with alcohol advertising, as long as they’re not marketing to kids. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US, and alcohol ranks in at number three on the same list by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The biggest difference between alcohol and tobacco marketing is that tobacco must follow government controlled advertising regulations, while the alcohol industry agrees on regulations as a largely self-regulating industry. The tobacco industry held a similar power until that came crashing down with lawsuits for marketing to minors. Alcohol must still follow medium regulations for their advertising. TV, radio, and live events may have different regulations by location or medium as a whole.

Where Does Cannabis Fit?

Cannabis is not only federally illegal, but illegal in numerous states. Looking at things from a big picture standpoint and removing the desire of cannabis legalization, it seems like a long shot for social media giants to back the political standing of the minority. If Instagram and Facebook update their terms of service to be more friendly to the legal weed industry, I know the final picture will look nothing like what most people will want.

Does Legal Cannabis Have The Ad Dollars For Facebook* To Care?

(*Facebook owns Instagram, so it’s up to the parent company to set corporate policies.)

While cannabis businesses are becoming “big money,” they are simply a speck in the pond that is digital advertising dollars. There is no Toyota, NFL, or Nike, in cannabis, in terms of available ad spend dollars. The top cannabis companies are nowhere near close to the ad spend volume of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier competitors to the fore mentioned brands. These established companies are looking to reach a wide user base that includes a wide range of audience that includes people that don’t want to see any cannabis advertising on the platform. It would seem as if Instagram doesn’t want #weedporn clogging up the timelines of parents and consumers in every market outside of cannabis. Mainstream success comes with the responsibility of tip-toe’ing around mainstream taboo.

Some companies have had great success in the space navigating the grey waters of what’s acceptable and how to go about pushing the limits. Many others with the legal cannabis space have felt defeated in the face of this generations largest companies but some have begun to fight back.

Cannabess has launched a petition to ask Instagram to update their Terms Of Service to reflect the changing landscape of cannabis law.

Check that out at the link below, sign if you support the movement. And be sure to leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts!

Sign the petition here

The Future

The cannabis industry is growing incredibly fast. In fact, it’s accelerating quicker than the Dot Com era. With new start-ups, self-made millionaires, and large-scale corporations and hedge funds are running into space like Usain Bolt, the growth doesn’t look like it will stop in the short term. While only 15 states still have marijuana listed as “illegal” a very small portion of the country is offering legal cannabis for sale. Once this number starts to triple and we move towards allowing interstate commerce, the funds within the industry will continue to exponentially skyrocket and we’ll see larger companies dive into the space.

Although residents in states that allow recreational cannabis have been accustomed to the new normal, many Americans still retain a strong taboo on the substance. And for now, the biggest social media platforms are remaining “neutral.”

This post originally appeared at