A Fort Collins business that produces and markets hemp-oil-infused products is one of several across the country that recently had its Facebook page shut down after the social media giant said the page violated its policy against promoting prescription pharmaceuticals.
Thibault Camus, Associated Press file
Facebook says it is looking into concerns that pages of companies that make hemp products were shut down unnecessarily.
The shutdown, which started Dec. 20, came as Joy Organics is preparing to launch a new line of skin-care products.
“We thought it was just a silly mistake or misunderstanding or something like that,” said Hannah Smith, communications director for the company started by her mother, Joy Smith.
In fact, Facebook said Friday that it was a mistake.
“We mistakenly removed pages for hemp and CBD oil that do not violate our policies, and we are currently working to restore these pages,” the company said in an email.
And late Friday afternoon, Joy Organics’ main Facebook page was once again working.
Joy Organics’ products are made with cannabidiol oil (CBD) from hemp. The hemp plant is in the cannabis family but has negligible amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Smith said the company had found Facebook’s action especially puzzling because the new federal farm bill approved in December legalized production of hemp.
“We were celebrating the farm bill going through,” Smith said. “Our hopes were that it would create more legitimacy and safety in the business. And then to be shut down (by Facebook) was definitely a shock for us.”
After Facebook denied Joy Organics’ appeal, Smith said she tried to find out if other businesses were having problems. She heard of a company in Kentucky facing the same issue. There were reports of businesses in North Carolina and the United Kingdom having their accounts cut off.
In late November, the Boston Globe reported that at least six Massachusetts marijuana dispensaries had their Instagram accounts cut off. Instagram said it has a policy against offering “illegal or prescription drugs” even if they’re legal locally.
Facebook owns Instagram.
“We appreciate that those on Facebook’s policy team have recognized their mistake, and we hope they will rectify the situation quickly for all the CBD businesses that have been affected by this misunderstanding,” Smith said.
While Joy Organics’ main Facebook page was disabled, pages for its stores in Austin, Texas, and Deer Park, Ill., still worked.
Attorney Shawn Hauser called the disabling of the Facebook and Instagram accounts “out-of-bounds.” Hauser, with the Vicente Sederberg law firm, which specializes in marijuana and hemp issues, said she had heard of other businesses selling CBD products losing access to the social media accounts.
After conducting trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved CBD derived from marijuana for the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. Hauser said once a substance is studied as a drug and the results are made public, it can’t be marketed as food or a dietary supplement. She said the FDA’s interpretation of CBD as a drug appears to be the rationale for Facebook flagging accounts offering the hemp products.
However, there are questions about how to treat CBD oil derived from hemp and about products marketed before the FDA’s drug trials, Hauser said. The FDA has said it is looking into various issues as hemp production and interest in CBD products expand, she said.
Hemp has been an agricultural product for several centuries and was one of the first plants to be used for fiber. After passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, hemp was no longer officially recognized as distinct from marijuana, according to the Hemp Industries Association.
The new farm bill shifts hemp from classification as a controlled substance to a crop regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, states and tribes. But the bill doesn’t affect regulation by the FDA, which says it has to approve any cannabis product, including hemp-derived, that claims to have health benefits before it can be part of interstate commerce.
The law is evolving, Hauser said. Her firm works with companies to ensure that their marketing complies with the law, she added.
“But it’s really not Facebook’s role to police and enforce federal food and drug laws,” Hauser said.