Meta's Instagram Is The To-Go Platform For Illegal Weed Dealers, Here's Why

Over these past several years, social media platforms have nabbed the number one spot for advertising. Why? By enabling advertisers to reach a much broader audience than TV and newspapers.

As such, it’s no surprise that some of these platforms have become the to-go place for illegal weed dealers. Yes, you read that correctly. It turns out that most of these platforms’ efforts to avoid illegal activities on their services remain futile. Well, maybe not completely useless but there are always loopholes, ideal for those eager to find them.

Apparently, a large part of illegal cannabis sales in New York take place on Meta Platforms' META Instagram, reveals Bloomberg. 

Just last week, the Empire State issued the first 36 conditional adult-use retail dispensary licenses, aiming to regulate and tax the industry, known for its booming illegal operations. New York is trying to establish rules and regs similar to other states with legal programs while focusing on strict advertising limitations. Usually, these restrictions are similar to those adhered to by the alcohol and tobacco industry, which by law cannot focus or appear to focus on minors. 

Unfortunately, there's one thing giving these lawmakers a headache: the digital world. 

Reaching More People Through Instagram 

For a while now, marijuana cultivators have been using Instagram to advertise their products. 

“Meta is very good at getting themselves incorporated into people’s daily routines,” Mike, a New York City cannabis grower told Bloomberg News. “You reach more people through Instagram,” said Mike who asked to remain anonymous because he hasn’t applied for a cannabis license yet. 

The outlet noted that there are numerous sponsored posts and stores with marijuana clubs, cultivators and sellers, some of which include links to illegal vendors. After Bloomberg News uncovered a few cannabis ads, Meta said it would remove two pages over policy violations, but the posts remained online. 

“We prohibit content — both in ads and organically on pages — that promotes the buying and selling of drugs, including marijuana, and remove it whenever we find it,” said Rachel Hamrick, a Meta spokesperson.

According to the company, cannabis content is forbidden on Instagram, with its “restricted goods policy” banning content that markets cannabis, tobacco and e-cigarettes.

So, how do these experienced pot dealers bypass the strict rules and end up promoting their goods to a young audience on the platform? 

Some use disclaimers saying cannabis is “not for sale” though at the same time they include links to their accounts on an external page or include a phone number. Some provide backup pages or second accounts where followers can gather if the main page gets closed down. 

“I’ve already been taken down like about three times,” says Phil, who also asked to remain anonymous because he has no license and hasn't yet applied. Phil runs a marijuana delivery service that relies on Instagram to reach new customers. 

What other social media platforms are weed dealers using? According to Bloomberg, other sites that have become popular for illegal cannabis operations include Snapchat, Discord, Telegram and upstarts like WeedTube and Social Club

Why Is Instagram The Best Choice For Illegal Pot Sales? 

Instagram is more appealing due to the audience that regularly uses it, which is mostly late teens and young adults. 

The formula is simple, with 71% of people between 18 and 29 using Instagram and nearly 35% of that group also consuming marijuana (as per 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), Instagram is the ideal platform for reaching this targeted audience. 

Photo: Benzinga edit from Alexander Shatov and GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash

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