Facebook Blocks Ads For Pot Legalization Campaign

For a typical college student, if it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t happen. That gives the social networking behemoth an out-sized influence on the confines of political debate, if that debate falls outside what Facebook deems acceptable discourse.


Proponents of marijuana legalization, which is on the California ballot in 2010, have hit a Facebook wall in their effort to grow an online campaign to rethink the nation’s pot laws. Facebook initially accepted ads from the group Just Say Now, running them from August 7 to August 16, generating 38 million impressions and helping the group’s fan page grow to over 6,000 members. But then they were abruptly removed.

Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, said that the problem was the pot leaf. “It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long[er]acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies,” he told the group in an email, which was provided to HuffPost.

Noyes is on vacation and didn’t respond to an email. A request sent to Facebook’s general press address generated an auto-reply indicating that the company receives many requests and intends to respond. [Scroll down for a Facebook statement.]

Facebook’s ad rules, however, only ban promotion of “[t]obacco products,” not smoking in general. Since the 1970s, shops selling marijuana paraphernalia have sought ways around the law by disingenuously claiming their products are “for tobacco use only.” The Just Say Now campaign is arguing the exact opposite: No, really, it’s for marijuana, not tobacco.

The censorship is a blow to the campaign, which is gathering signatures on college campuses calling for legalization and registering young people to vote. “It’s like running a campaign and saying you can’t show the candidate’s face,” said Michael Whitney of Firedoglake.com, a blog that is part of the Just Say Now coalition.

Conservative college students condemned the site’s restrictions. “Our generation made Facebook successful because it was a community where we could be free and discuss issues like sensible drug policy. If Facebook censorship policies continue to reflect those of our government by suppressing freedom of speech then they won’t have to wait until Election Day to be voted obsolete,” Jordan Marks, the head of Young Americans for Freedom, told HuffPost in an email. YAF was founded in the 1960s and William Buckley’s estate; Buckley was a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization. Marks is a member of the Just Say Now board.

Aaron Houston, the executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said that Facebook was out of touch with its customers.

“Their business will suffer if they don’t reverse this decision. We’re way beyond reefer madness and censorship. Facebook should get with the times,” he said.

While Facebook is banning the ad, a number of conservative and liberal blogs and news outlets have agreed to run it beginning on Tuesday. The Nation, The New Republic, Human Events, Red State, Antiwar, Reason, Drug War Rant, Stop The Drug War, Daily Paul, Lew Rockwell, The Young Turks, MyDD, AmericaBlog, Pam’s House Blend and Raw Story are among them.

To protest Facebook’s decision, Just Say Now is launching, naturally, a Facebook petition, cognizant that the social networking company often responds to user feedback. The group is also asking people to replace their profile picture with an image of a censored pot leaf.

“By censoring marijuana leaves, Facebook is banning political speech. This is unfair, and unacceptable,” reads the petition. “Facebook should reverse its decision and allow the free discussion of U.S. drug policy that the country is ready for.”

UPDATE: The Libertarian Party has had the same problem. Spokesman Kyle Hartz emailed HuffPost to say that after initially approving the ad, Facebook reversed its decision and censored the ad on July 23rd.

“Thanks for writing in to us,” a Facebook representative wrote to the party. “I took a look at your account and noticed that the content advertised by this ad is prohibited. We reserve the right to determine what advertising we accept, and we may choose to not accept ads containing or relating to certain products or services. We do not allow ads for marijuana or political ads for the promotion of marijuana and will not allow the creation of any further Facebook Ads for this product. We appreciate your cooperation with this policy.”

UPDATE II: Facebook spokesman Noyes says in a statement: “The image in question was no longer acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a marijuana leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies.”

UPDATE III: Facebook objects to the pot leaf under medical circumstances, as well. As Washington, D.C.’s city council was debating how to write regulations to permit the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, the District of Columbia Patients’ Cooperative took out Facebook ads to encourage city residents to attend the hearings, the cooperative’s Nikolas Schiller tells HuffPost. Facebook shut it down, though the hearings went on regardless. The ads contained a pot leaf and were, like the others, initially approved and later rejected.

“The aim of the District of Columbia Patients’ Cooperative use of targeted Facebook ads was to engender community support for the DC medical cannabis law which had been placed on ice for 12 years by Congress,” said Schiller. “We created the ads to target those on Facebook who are sympathetic to the subject and might be interested in coming to District Council hearings and meeting with elected officials. While we were able to organize through Facebook, our efforts were severely hampered by Facebook’s continued rejection of our ads. The ads ran between between January and May 2010, with the final rejection on May 10th–the ad stated “Have you spoken to your doctor yet? You will soon be able to use medical marijuana with a recommendation from your doctor!” and contained a cannabis leaf with the DC flag superimposed over it.

– Article from The Huffington Post.



  1. Anonymous on

    When you use facebook you are adding value to the site and making money for them. The CEO said words to the effect that the users of facebook were stupid f–kers for trusting him with their data. I deactivated my account also and gave this as the reason.

    “Some of the privacy concerns were exacerbated by publication of instant messages from Mr Zuckerberg during his college years, when he called Facebook users stupid for trusting him. On Wednesday, he said he regretted such exchanges. “I’m really sorry”, he said.”

    No, no you are right. I was stupid.

  2. Skot Tome on

    facebook is lame. 90% of the people there won’t talk to people unless they have a facebook account. Lame. And now the inevitable censorship of free speech. Social networking in general is a blight on this planet.

  3. EasternChez on

    This makes me super happy that I deleted my facebook account a couple weeks ago. Facebook is a destroyer of lives.

  4. Anonymous on

    Who knew Facebook had an anti Cannabis position? It’s common knowledge. My question would be why would somebody even attempt to run such an ad there when they know damn well that it’s against their policy. Must have a lot of time to waste. It’s a private company. They own the site so they can allow or disallow whatever they want.

    If ads on Facebook are your best strategy for promoting legalization then the campaign is in pretty sad shape. Only idiots use Facebook anyway, considering that their personal information is available to a lot of creeps. Recently somebody put their status as “going out for the night”. One of her “friends” then broke into her house and stole her stuff knowing she would be gone for a while. Not a real good idea to tell a bunch of people what you’re doing every minute of the day. The dweebs who use Facebook don’t care about Cannabis anyway. That’s why they are on there instead of MySpace. They enjoy the Cannabis free atmosphere.

    Now go spread the word to the last remaining two people on Earth who don’t already know, Facebook does not allow Cannabis related content. There, now there’s no excuse for anymore blogs like this one.

  5. Stoner on

    point is,
    how could stopping our legalization efforts help anything
    don’t let them win

  6. stoner on

    deleting your facebook is not the answer at all
    that is just letting them win
    because how many of us advocate the legalization of marijuana all the time on there.
    I say, pump up the activism even more
    and put pot leafs all over your profile
    if they want to censor us,
    then overwhelm them with it to the point where they can’t even do anything to stop it
    that’s a better solution

  7. Anonymous on

    thank you for a well thought out and presented look at the hypocrasy and grey area marketing techniques protrayed on Facebook. Yes I will start flagging ads , i think maybe that’ll impact more than a petition ,because if the flagged ads stay ,you know the real focus is not on the Facebook member but in maintaining their cash flow !!!

  8. Psychonaut on

    That is complete hogwash; if they ban the leaf-y ads then we all should the marijuana leaf as our profile picture. Let’s see who does what then.

  9. natty on

    The ads on facebook seem to be engendering the true american ideals: that you must rely on corporations and government for everything. Dominating actions by human groups are the only way to fufillment. Life and nature are to be conquered, with a drink and a pill bottle in one hand, and a weapon in the other.

    Consider this:

    many of the ads are for pharmacuetical drugs for various medical conditions. Cannabis is a direct competitor to many of these drugs. Also the idea that wholistic support can come from nature is foreign to the facebook landscape.

    Many of the ads are for violent video games. Cannabis is about relaxation, love, upliftment, and enlightment. This is the polar opposite of ego-stimulating mindless violence. The violent video game ads include sniper shooting, simulated slot machine gambling, “Mercenaries of War”, poker (gambling again), an ancient Greek ‘conquer the world’ game -the ad for it says “Hate Farming?” (is Facebook anti-peace and anti-agrarian?) An ad for “Frontierville” says “Don’t hesitate to club the crazy fox.” Isn’t this game for children? Brutality towards living creatures- good? Natural plant medicines -bad?

    At the top of the video game ad list is “Mafia II”. What is facebook’s stance? That violence, brutal organized crime, global warfare, sniping with an assualt rifle, and gambling -are things that are good to promote? But an image of a plant medicine is so damaging to people’s consciousness that it should be banned in any context?

    There is also an ad in which facebook users are encouraged to “Support the Troops” by clicking on an ad in the “60 Second Cocktails” facebook page, at which point 1 dollar will be donated to the USO.

    Alcohol, Mob, Warfare, Gambling, & Pharmacuetical drugs: These are some of the biggest industries in the US (and other nations). Is there some behind-the-scenes influencing going on? The last thing the War, Alchol, and Drug companies want is for people to experience cannabis.

    Flag these ads as offensive. Let facebook know that what you find offensive is the majority of the existing ads, not images of cannabis sativa leaves.

  10. p_light420 on

    I recently deactivated my facebook account due to the sheer amount of bandwidth being wasted on pure stupidity and ego masturbation. I refuse to be part of it. Now they want to ban the freedom of it’s users to tell the truth about a misunderstood plant. Stop fueling their tyranny, stop going to the site.

  11. Anonymous on

    This one is the troll.

  12. Anonymous on

    Then the CIA have the ugliest most dumb chicks working there in the whole world. The real hotties are at the DEA

  13. Roger Avery on

    “They” think the status quo is perfect and needs no change; therefore, they will stifle any attempt to get any message out there in order to actually do any changing. Facebook is controlled by the CIA.