For the nascent cannabis industry, the social media landscape remains fraught with uncertainty and consequent stymied branding and marketing goals. Cannabis is classed as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, a status that confers high abuse potential and no acceptable medical use—the latter in direct opposition to current scientific consensus. The Controlled Substances Act also prohibits advertising Schedule I drugs via “communications facilities” like television, radio and internet; broadcasters who violate this provision risk felony charges. Alongside the American analog (media) set, social media websites and apps are still resistant to publishing or broadcasting cannabis ads.
Adweek reports that the cannabis industry continues to seek clarification from Instagram on what’s “kosher” to post about cannabis products on its site. Instagram brand communications manager Stephanie Noon explained the difference between advocating for cannabis rather than selling it in an interview with The Straight: “Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, web addresses or street addresses. Dispensaries can promote the use and federal legalization of marijuana provided that they do not also promote its sale or provide contact information to their store.”
In a tale as old as time, technological advances in the budding cannabis industry are heightening the tension between the indie farmer’s DIY ethos and various corporate models. As with traditional agribusiness, the mainstreaming of cannabis produce creates the potential for selectively breeding out chemical and physical botanical quirks and thus, rare heirloom varietals. As CNET reports, many cannabis producers are struggling to come to terms with high-tech industrialization and other agribusiness pressures being powered by medical cannabis programs and recreational legalization. Consider the selective breeding that created the modern tomato—boasting optimal fruit and seed size and shape as well as a higher-quality and quantity yields—in all its sturdy ketchup-red glory.
While niche, boutique markets and growing traditions will always exist, the overarching cannabis agribusiness model looks toward a technological future populated or even dominated by genetic testing, robotic harvests, crop data analysis and yeast-based manufacturing. And while the masses might always reach for the reddest, roundest tomato, cannabis farmer Chrystal Ortiz analogizes her customer base within the larger vegetable agribusiness idiom. “Th[ose are] not my people. My tomatoes are warty, purple and amazing.”