Facebook and Instagram’s strict advertising policies are hurting small businesses that make products out of hemp — even though the cannabis derivative can’t get you high, has been legal for decades and was famously farmed by George Washington.
Mike Goose, a 41-year-old entrepreneur who runs a New York-based company that makes tortilla chips out of hemp seeds, said his company’s ads have been rejected by Facebook since 2019 for violating its ban on ads for “illegal products or services.”
That’s despite the fact that hemp — a high-protein ingredient that comes from the same plant as marijuana but doesn’t contain THC — has been used in food products like granola for decades. In 2018, Congress passed a law making hemp cultivation legal across the country.
“Every ad was rejected,” griped Goose, whose company is called Let There Be Hemp. “We’re very confused as to why they would reject them given that hemp was legal.”
When the founder has complained to Facebook, the company has offered little clarity. In one puzzling e-mail shared with The Post, a Facebook support staffer named Amelie told Goose that even though he wasn’t promoting an illegal substance, “at times some content may get detected related to content that has been marked as unsafe.”
Goose says the baffling ban has hurt his ability to find customers and grow his business.
“Our biggest issue right now is our ability to get our name out there,” Goose said.
Goose’s predicament underscores just how crucial Facebook ads are for American small businesses. A whopping 66 percent of small businesses in the US use Facebook for advertising, while 41 percent use Instagram, according to one 2021 survey.
“Facebook ads are important for a business like this because we don’t have major budgets,” Goose said. “Facebook allows you to really target efficiently, geographically and based off of likes and interests.”
Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Meta’s ad rules don’t mention hemp by name but prohibit “the sale or use of illicit or recreational drugs, or other unsafe substances, products or supplements, as determined by Facebook in its sole discretion.”
Wonderlab’s Doozy Pots — a Cincinnati, Ohio-based hemp gelato maker — found a creative way to comply with Facebook’s policies after having several of its ads banned: removing the word “hemp” from their packaging altogether. After they made the change, their ads started getting approved.
But the Facebook-forced rebranding as “plant-based” rather than “hemp-based” makes it difficult to stand out against their competitors, according to husband-and-wife founders Kirsten and Karl Sutaria.
“Our competitors if they’re using coconut or a cashew base, they can talk about the benefits of using that base,” Karl Sutaria told The Post. “We can’t talk about hemp in our ads. It’s an unfair disadvantage to us.”
And similarly to Goose’s predicament, the Sutarias’ attempts to appeal to Facebook have not helped.
“I’ve spoken to people there and it’s just not a priority,” Kirsten Sutaria said.
Despite their frustration with Facebook, the duo says that redesigning their packaging was the right choice because the site is such a valuable marketing tool.
“It’s just the two of us, so to reach a few thousand people for $50 is huge,” Kirsten Sutaria said.
While the Sutarias and Goose don’t use CBD in their products, other small businesses that use the weed-related product have also griped about Meta’s ad policies.
In 2019, a CBD entrepreneur sued Facebook in New York federal court over its advertising ban, claiming that the company “wrongfully censored” ads for an online conference about the substance. The suit was later dismissed.
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