New York marijuana regulators are asking the social media app TikTok to end its ban on advertising that involves the word “cannabis” as they work to promote public education on the state’s move to legalize.
The state’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) sent a letter to TikTok executives on Monday, urging the company to revise its advertising policy for government entities so that they can freely talk about marijuana in a public health and safety context.
OCM Executive Director Chris Alexander said that the office has launched a “Cannabis Conversations” campaign to inform New Yorkers about “who can purchase cannabis, where can you legally use cannabis, and how one can safely use cannabis, including protecting youth.”
“We are airing ads from this campaign on broadcast television, on billboards across New York, and on various social media platforms,” he wrote. However, when OCM attempted to extend that campaign to TikTok, regulators were “informed you do not take cannabis ads of any kind, including ones from government accounts promoting health and education.”
“But we know our colleagues at the New York State Department of Health have run paid advertisements on TikTok as part of their public health campaigns,” the letter, which was first reported by Rolling Stone, says. “We hope to be allowed to run similar public health campaigns on your platform. We ask you to please reconsider your current blanket ban on advertisements using the word ‘cannabis’ on TikTok.”
TikTok—the most widely downloaded app of 2021, with more than one billion users—is an especially valuable advertising asset, Alexander said.
For example, with 75 percent of users being between 18 and 34, that could help regulators clear up any misinformation about who is able to possess or purchase marijuana when retailers launch later this year. (The age requirement is 21 and older for the adult-use market.)
“This group includes a critical age range, of those over 18 but under 21, where brains are still growing and our messaging provides information on the risks they face at that young age if they use it. It also includes parents and other caregivers who deserve access to the tools we’re providing to help them discuss the risk of cannabis with the youth in their lives. Our public health education campaign also delivers the message that it’s both unsafe and illegal to drive while impaired by cannabis, another important message for this age group where decision-making often leans toward risk-taking.”
“We ask you to join us in the effort to make sure the end of cannabis prohibition in New York is safe for residents of all ages,” Alexander said. “Clear and truthful public health information is essential in our public information campaigns, and TikTok could be a valued partner in this fight for public safety. But that can only be the case if you allow us to run advertisements on your platform.”
The relationship between social media companies and marijuana businesses, influencers and regulators has proved complicated and inconsistent amid the legalization movement.
On Facebook, for example, state-legal cannabis businesses, advocacy groups and government entities like the California Bureau of Cannabis Control have complained of being “shadow banned,” where their profile pages do not show up on a conventional search. There were reports in 2018 that the social media giant would be loosening its restrictive cannabis policies, but it’s unclear what steps its taken to achieve that.
The same problem exists on the Facebook-owned Instagram, where people have consistently said that their accounts have been deleted by the app over marijuana-related content even if they weren’t advertising the sale, or promoting the use, of cannabis.
In contrast, the video game streaming service Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, has revised its marijuana rules, carving out an exception this year that allows users to keep handles that contain references to cannabis.