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Cannabis Marketing & New (digital) Media: Advertising Democracy

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Update: I got my Instagram back, but this is the article I wrote in the days without it.

When I began to write, I wrote out of passion and with a sense of urgency. I had no clue people who didn't know a thing about cannabis, (and don't care) would fawn over my rhetoric for the reasons they did. I love the support and was absolutely thrilled to find thousands who sought the same answers I had previously sought. But I also learned about copy writing and how a good writer can gather a handful of sought after terms, keywords, from any industry, and use them to write blog articles to significantly improve their search ranking results on Google. Now I'd known of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and website ranking, (hence several top Google ranking blog pages of my own), but with a long list of other options, mainly money, blogging was just one small element of getting your website and brand seen.


Paying to run ad campaigns through Google and Facebook, would top the marketing list. Up against financial adversaries, a blog seemed low on the list of priorities, yet I could feel a specific demand for my work. I didn't realize the harsh restrictions on brick and mortar cannabis marketing existed online, as well. I soon realized the two largest online advertisement companies, Google and Facebook, completely refuse cannabis and anything cannabis related from paid advertising. This includes cannabis culture brands and educational sources. Unable to pay for physical or online exposure, marketing would almost appear... fair.


I immediately understood the value of blogging, without paid marketing. A legitimate blog is the main measure setting one company's site over the other in search results. Especially over the long-run, as SEO organized blogs act as a permanent draw to your website, improving and multiplying a brand's online visibility over time. Without the usual alternatives in paid advertising, the ability to write about and discuss the complexities and details of hash and hash culture is sought after among advertisers. And whether people read these blogs or not isn't important. They are read by google and used to determine your websites reliability and rank during every google search. The value of SEO blogging is maximized for cannabis brands who can tie into my network of top brands across the industry, with back-links to (Services)


With paid advertising strictly off limits by Google and Facebook, Instagram appeared to have completely democratized marketing for the cannabis industry. Used daily by over 3 million people, a number constantly growing, Instagram is a free and easy way to showcase a brand. The perfect medium for brands and businesses to have free access to their consumers, was too good to be true. A transparency was forming through the digital community, allowing people like myself, to help inform other consumers and weigh-in on new brands. It even was helping to hold producers accountable, but we can't have too much of that in surveillance capitalism, now can we?


The algorithm that is Instagram appeared to democratize the very undemocratic advertising industry, allowing everyone to have similar access to brands, products, patients, enthusiasts, and even the farmers. Unable to pay off the search engines, a wicked social media campaign can be a brand's best friend. For the high-end hash community a picture says a thousand words. IG appeared to level the playing field with an equality I was surprised by. New brands that people love, catch on quick and the market appeared to be working in competition to expose fakers and reveal the highest quality hash-makers thanks to the visuals and reviews. You know, the idea behind capitalism. Free market competition is supposed to promote the best product, but advanced marketing campaigns have long since intervened. For all industries quality is not the goal. This fact illimunated by the long list of manipulating tactics imparted through the marketing material. Product competition hasn't been true in any industry for eons.


As much as I feared losing my account due to Instagram's regulations, from everything I'd read and gathered I would be alright. It seemed only drug dealers and those selling cannabis were being shut down. I also thought an education page would be left alone with thousands of others blatantly breaking laws and so much more, right in public view. I was wrong. I had conversed with thousands, and had always been respectful and clear, responding no and no thank you to anyone offering or asking anything from me. Nothing was ever bought, and nothing was ever sold from my account. Hell, nothing was given either (except information). If there ever was a responsible, and well-intentioned use of the platform, it was @hashwriter (aside from maybe some story jokes). My Instagram was intended for one thing and that was helping to educate others. It ended up becoming more than I expected as an opportunity to express myself with a sense of humor. Then it was gone...


Understanding the temporary nature of Instagram from the get-go, I made sure to secure the permanence of a website, knowing the gray area was thick and deep for social media and cannabis. Good thing I did. For all the good that was coming of Instagram, the transparency, and democratizing marketing, the very opposite is true when you pick and poke specific accounts. And this is where the problem is rooted in something much larger, and much darker than just cannabis marketing rules. The ability to single-out, delete, censor, and silence any account at any time, proves the basic nature of social media is not a way to express and communicate but rather a way to control and limit, to silence and regulate, to observe, to predict, to dictate behavior. It is behavior modification at its finest and creates a fluid and flexible Panopticon that would impress (or scare the shit out of) Michel Foucault.

It's funny, I didn't study marketing in school, (I have addiction to thank for manipulation), but I did study some digital media theory, a theory that's stood since Marshall McLuhan prophetically stated in the late 1950's:

"The medium is the message."

"The medium is the message", is truer nowhere than the heady glass and hash communities that revolve around IG posting for nearly everything. For the hash smoker its transformed the ritual of enjoying good hash. The consumer has become an advertiser for brands we purchase. As Instagram infiltrates a massive market, their message is as clear as ever: We are in control. You have no control and no say over who will get to play and who will not. We dictate who succeeds and who gets deleted without warning, usually silencing a voice. The message is one of control. The same man would also say:

"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us."

With paid ads removed from the marketing equation, the industry is advertised by the people paying to smoke it. The medium of Instagram is the message as the app strategically changed the way many smokers enjoy hash. Melt-shots and Black-market brands exist right alongside California's legal producers. And forced to walk on eggshells, brands rely on creators for content without being banned themselves.

Legalization left so many unable to keep up with the regulations, who had previously produced products sold at the same dispensaries open today. Many of these brands continue to produce retail style products, promoted and sold exclusively on IG, right next to legal brands. There have been plenty of instances where I cannot distinguish the legality of a company or what state they are in. And with tens of thousands of followers, Instagram allows some traditional market brands to thrive in a national or even global market, meanwhile shutting down legal accounts and small brands. What a mess the regulators created.

Honestly, I knew deep down there was nothing democratic or fair about media marketing when the app determines who is seen and who isn't. With control over who's content is shown, how frequently, and to how many, the process had always been concerning. They amplify the influence of whoever they pick and choose (think melt shots). I was able to live in denial for a year, considering access alone to be significant. This level of unknown select-ability I could live with, growing my account to over four thousand before rudely being shown the door. Engagement allowed me to forget the discrepancies of the algorithm. Despite seeing others lose their accounts, it's easy to be sucked into the very world I'd feared from the start.

Just like in everything else I do in life and everything I think about, I always remember the little guy. Did 710labs send me a few grams to make-up for the thousands I'd spent on hash rosin full of hair? Yes, but only after months of emails and arguing and even me writing an article titled "My Temporary Breakup With 710Labs" that nearly a thousand people read. What did that tell me? It told me that thousands of consumers who don't have a voice were being shit on. I'd heard plenty of stories about how awful they were treated by 710 Labs, but I defended the brand forever, until witnessing it decisively firsthand. I bring this up as I think about how many people, and how many other brands and accounts