Facebook says no to "Just Say Now" marijuana legalization campaign ads

[ Update: Since this post was originally published, Facebook has responded to Boing Boing with further clarification on their existing ad policies. A Facebook rep tells us the ad in dispute crossed the line because it contained an image of a pot leaf, which current policy prohibits. ]

The people behind the "Just Say Now" marijuana legalization campaign (oft-Boinged Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald is one of many political thinkers on their board) want Facebook to back off its decision to pull their ads from the social networking service.

Advisory board member Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake tells Boing Boing,

In a nutshell, they allowed us to serve our ads for 10 days (38 million impressions) then suddenly reversed their approval and told us we could no longer show the image of a marijuana leaf. They said they decided to reclassify it as similar to tobacco, but we said we weren't trying to encourage people to smoke marijuana, we were supporting a change in US drug policy.
They report that Facebook's communications rep Adam Noyes said, when asked for Facebook's decision in writing:
It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies. Let me know if you need anything further.

But the group points out that Facebook's ad policy doesn't ban "smoking products," just "tobacco products." Also, Facebook does permit alcohol ads, even ads featuring images of alcohol products and packaging, though alcohol ads that make alcohol consumption "fashionable," "promote intoxication" or that "encourage excessive consumption" are banned. Just Say Now calls Facebook's action censorship.

They're running the ads on political blogs both right and left starting today, and Google has told the campaign they'll accept the ad. As with every pressing social issue of our time, yes, there is a Facebook group for this controversy.

Why bother with all of this? Here's their mission statement:

Our nation's prohibition about marijuana has cost the country billions, resulted in a massive increase in incarceration rates, funded criminal syndicates, yet failed to stop people from using marijuana. It is a failed costly and misguided policy that must end now. We are a group of all individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and political leans that share the simple conviction that the marijuana prohibition must end. That is why we are promoting the legalization and sensible regulation of marijuana through grassroots organizing and direct democratic action.
More about the Facebook ad controversy here at Firedoglake. A related item is now up at Huffington Post.


  1. Can the issue of the leaf logo and the call for legalisation be separated perhaps? I think FB are within their rights to ban a logo that could (at a stretch) be interpreted as encouraging consumption, but are 100% in the wrong if their position is that they will not countenance any for of advert which advocates a change in the law.

    1. What happens if some company decides to make a pot leaf it’s logo? Does that encourage consumption?

  2. That’s the same kind of argument the tobacco industry used: “They did not encourage kids to smoke their cigarettes, but they were supporting a change in US tobacco policy”.

      1. And, interestingly enough, the tobacco industry is well-positioned to diversify and dominate the pot market when/if marijuana legalization happens. They’ve already got the infrastructure in place to mass market, and if anyone thinks there won’t be a mass market for pot in a legalized world I’ve got a bridge for sale somewhere. Not that that’s a good argument against legalization. Just that some of the supporters of legalization don’t think about what the end results of their campaign will mean, and like to act like small growers will be the beneficiaries of a policy shift, when we don’t have policy shifts in this country that don’t, inevitably, benefit entrenched corporations.

        As far as this goes – if Facebook wanted to give the “Just Say Now” campaign free advertising at Facebook’s expense then “Mission Accomplished”. This will give the campaign some free advertising for a couple of days, and I imagine there will be a resubmission without the pot leaf logo when the free advertising dies down. And if Facebook rejects that then it’s another round of free advertising as people talk about why Facebook is rejecting the new ad.

        1. I wish I didn’t have a dentist’s appointment, because I’d dig up the comment thread from last year sometime where we hashed out the very issue of tobacco companies taking over marijuana production. I’m inclined to believe that marijuana would be much more like the microbrewery movement. Sure, there’d be major producers, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could get a major crop up that would be of sufficient quality. Like wine or beer, people will want a wide selection of fine buds of different flavors and styles. Not to mention that growing weed is fairly easy (as I’ve heard; I’ve never tried), and would only be easier after legalization.

          But I’m not optimistic that that’s going to happen any time soon. In the meantime, I think Facebook’s decision is a little silly, but only if the ads were targeted to people over the age of 18. I don’t know that this ad would cause kids to go out and smoke pot, but it doesn’t do anybody any good if mom happens to be looking over your shoulder and there’s a pot leaf on your Facebook wall.

        2. “and like to act like small growers will be the beneficiaries of a policy shift”.

          In a large sense this is true. Cannabis, unlike tobacco requires no special curing. People will grow their own supply, buy from friends or even apply for licence to supply retailers if they have a green thumb and some space. It could become a serious home industry.

          As for the FB argument against smoking, their claim might stand if cannabis were harmful, which it’s not, it’s just illegal. The image of it however, is not.

          1. Tobacco curing requires accurate, regulated temperature and humidity control for an extended period of time if you want something even vaguely smoke-able.
            Cannabis buds are best aired lightly until slightly crisp, then bottled in glass jars and aired and turned every day or three.

            Curing tobacco requires equipment. Curing pot requires jars.

          2. Well, that may be a slight overstatement. Traditional tobacco barns regulate neither temperature nor humidity with any great accuracy.

            But, decades ago I met an ancient farmer in West Virginia who had switched over to hemp from tobacco (his traditional livelihood having been regulated out of existence) and he agreed with you that pot is far easier to grow and to cure. He claimed anyone who could grow mediocre tobacco could grow outstanding cannabis. He said tobacco required continual crop maintenance (topping, slashing, spearing, bug control, etc.) during the growing season that hemp simply didn’t need… he’d just pull the male plants as they occurred and that was it. And he talked about “the green tobacco shakes” which I think are nictotine overdoses from tobacco sap. Interestingly enough, he smoked neither weed – but he did chew his home-grown plug tobacco.

        3. True, tobacco companies would benefit.

          But the basic goals of stopping needless mass incarceration, wasting large amounts of money on at least the marijuana portion of the war on drugs would be accomplished. The net effect to the economy that comes from stopping incarcerations and prosecutions is worth thinking about, probably a lot more worth thinking about than the tax revenues.

          There are a lot of benefits, and I suspect concern with the small pot farmer is probably the province of the small pot farmer, and the people that give them custom. It’s a shame, but the viability of black market small business isn’t really the biggest issue in the debate for me.

      2. True. My gripe was more with the argument that defended the ad than the ad itself. Jane uses the same rhetoric as the tobacco industry while claiming to be different. The ad I have no major gripes about.

        1. Niklas,

          The problem with that comparison is that the tobacco companies were lying, and everyone knew it. They were, and to an extent still are, advertising and selling tobacco to kids, because it made them money.

          The Just Say Now group, on the other hand, is not selling weed to people via facebook, nor do they directly profit from people smoking weed. There’s no reason that I see to believe that their goals are anything other than policy change.

          When a group makes an argument insincerely, one should become more suspicious of the group rather than the argument itself. Someone else can make the same argument sincerely.

        2. So it’s OK that we jail more of our own people than does any other nation — and mostly for drugs charges? But EEEEEK! Jane Hamsher and a tobacco exec might both have shared an idea once! How AWFUL!!!!

          1. Please excuse my frank and rather uncivilized language. but where the fuck did I even remotely claim such a thing?

    1. whens the last time smoking tobacco inspired anyone to paint a masterpiece, design anything, invent, be peaceful?

  3. They could sure use a good copy editor. “prohibition about marijuana”? “political leans“?

    1. Actually, Betty White has said (in her last appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart) that she while she us up to make fun of almost anything, she won’t do jokes about drugs.

  4. facebook is a private company. they can do whatever they want on their private servers so long as it does not cause harm to an individual.

    1. “facebook is a private company.”

      Sure, but if Zuck starts using it as a platform to preach his political views, I’m leaving.

    2. facebook is a private company. they can do whatever they want on their private servers so long as it does not cause harm to an individual.

      Who are you arguing with? No one here has advocated sending people to jail over it or creating new laws. What they are saying is that Facebook sucks. Facebook is free to act like assholes, and I am free to call them out for acting like assholes.

      Freedom of speech includes the right to be an asshole about your speech. It however also gives you the right to other people out as assholes when you don’t like their speech.

      I hope Google Me is turns out to be something even vaguely functional. Nothing would make me happier than deleting all of my content on Facebook and leaving it as a glorified address book that my grandmother and old school mates who I don’t want to talk to can see.

  5. Trying to argue that Facebook’s official policy only bans advertising of “tobacco products” not “smoking products” to say that they have no right to ban the ads is ridiculous. If the problem with the ad is the image of the leaf then make an ad without that image. First of all, Facebook does not owe free speech rights to anyone. Second, it could be argued that refusing to print ads that promote smoking and drinking is a *good* thing for them to do. Third, I know smoking pot and smoking tobacco are different, but does it make sense for a site that doesn’t want to print ads that encourage drinking or smoking to be fine with printing ads that encourage weed? Whether or not the ad *intended* to encourage use of the drug is totally irrelevant.

  6. Is the Pot Leaf really that big of a deal.
    Penn Station is literally covered in ads for the show Weeds which has a pot leaf on it. Next to it are ads for Laura Linney’s new show which has the slogan “Grab life by the balls”. I actually think that the slogan on that ad is a little bit more offensive than the pot leaves.

    1. But those Penn Station adds have hot chicks on them being sexy!. The message is clear. If Just Say Now removed the image of a pot leaf, and put an image of Christina Hendrix’s cleavage in its place, it would be just fine (and certainly no worse than those ads for dating websites).

      Re: making big Tobacco more money….you’re right, but I really don’t care who makes money off of it or how. The point for me is the ending of a prohibition, not to “stick it to the man.”

  7. Couldn’t they just remove the pot leaf?

    Surely spreading the message is more important than having the leaf on there.

  8. Marijuana use is not merely about smoking leaves. It’s a health issue for people who use it to control pain, counter the effects of chemotherapy, treat glaucoma, and so on.

    Capsules and extracts are often used in addition to smoking. Facebook might take a more humanitarian approach to this issue.

    Will Facebook next refuse images of the foxglove flower and willow trees? These are the original bases of digitalis and aspirin, respectively.

    Banning the leaf image says more about personal politics at Facebook than it does about the issues at hand.

  9. Ah, I can just hear Zucky now, “”All y’all dumb motherf***ers don’t even know my opinion on shit!”

  10. on the plus side, facebook pulling the ad probably inflated its relevance by an order of magnitude.

  11. The future of so-called “legalized” MJ cultivation will not be in the hands of the tobacco industry, but rather in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry.

    And growing it privately will still be illegal.

    Because the strains will be patented, you see.

    Can you smell it?

    I can.

    1. Exactly like it’s prohibited (at least in most European countries, dunno about the US) to grow tobacco without a permit or to sell it to anyone but an agreed tobacco-product manufacturer.

      Still, it means we have a clean, less-expensive than-weed, permanent supply of tobacco products. I would be rather happy if it was the same for MJ (especially now that I’ve stopped smoking tobacco).

  12. promote intoxication” or that “encourage excessive consumption” are banned.

    Ah, but ads for “girlfriends” are still allowed for all males registered on facebook who’s relationship setting is set to “single”, yes? Because alcohol and tobacco are bad but running ads that treat women like a commodity are not? That makes total moral sense, hypocrites!

  13. Vested interest in maintaining an ubiquitous source of easy busts for quick conversion into elevated arrest statistics and Promotions All ‘Round! will always impede the impetus for societal evolution.

    Having said that, I think this a terrific idea!

  14. In the Fla Keyes in the 70’s there were many wild t-shirts the best was Save the Bales,I still have one.

  15. Aren’t there more important issues like jobs and education that this group can mobilize young people around? Getting high on drugs doesn’t seem to be a noble cause or a solution for CA problems. MJ is already virtually legal in CA for anyone over 18 with a card; if you don’t have one, possession of less than an ounce is a $100 fine, no jail time, so where is the big deal? Also, the prop doesn’t create taxes for the state or regulate–it leaves it up to cities. So the adults will have to fix the chaos the kids voted for.

    1. You’re forgetting that we spend billions on enforcing this crazy law, meanwhile, tens of billions are going to crime syndicates, cartels, mobs, instead of going to legitimate taxpaying businesses. Just by fixing this ongoing injustice, would generate vast amounts of revenue. It would create millions of jobs, not only in producing the drug, but let’s not forget that hemp is currently illegal. Instead of billions of dollars going out of the country to fund criminals in other countries, an enormous local industry would be created. Not only the growers, trimmers, exporters, distributors, and retail storefronts would benefit, but paper mills, biofuel producers, plastic composite industries, cosmetics plants, and dozens of other industries would make use of hemp.

      Sure, you can say that it’s de-facto legal in California, and the penalties aren’t all that bad, but if you think it’s bad to lock a cat in a trash bin for 15 hours, you’ve got to find something’s fucked up that you’d lock an innocent farmer in a jail cell for 15 years, give them $100,000’s in fines, and a permanent criminal record. A marijuana conviction is no laughing matter, it will ruin your life. You will lose your job, your home, your family, your right to vote, your right to leave the country, your right to carry a weapon, your ability to get a job in the future. It’s a horrible injustice that millions of people are locked up and their lives ruined over something that’s less intoxicating than alcohol, and less unhealthy than tobacco.

      As far as your argument that “telling people to get high to solve their problems” won’t fix anything, I have to ask, since alcohol is legal, are we encouraging people to drink to fix the economy? Guns aren’t a noble cause to solve our problems either, but they’re legal too. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean we’re encouraging people to do it. In the grand scope of things, encouraging people to smoke weed instead of drink alcohol would have a huge benefit to society… Alcohol is a hard drug, no question. It’s physically addictive, it has nasty withdrawal symptoms, it’s acutely toxic, it can kill you from alcohol poisoning, it can impair your reflexes to the point where you can’t stop yourself from falling into a ditch and choking on your own vomit. It’s neurotoxic and hepatoxic, it causes all sorts of brain damage and liver damage. It causes rowdiness and violent behavior. Weed on the other hand is not addictive, it’s completely nontoxic, it can never kill you, it does no damage to the brain, and only mild damage to the lungs. It causes people to be friendly and laid back. If encouraging people to smoke weed would get them to cut down on drinking alcohol, then yes, maybe it is a noble cause and solution for our existing social problems. Either way though, it’s not about promoting cannabis or encouraging its use, it’s about putting an end to a nearly century old injustice that’s needlessly destroyed the lives of millions of people. When they put an end to slavery, it wasn’t about improving the economy, it was about liberty and justice and doing the right thing.

  16. This is particularly galling given those facebook kids pot smoking as undergraduates. Then there are also those persistent rumors they moved their Harvard weed dealer out to San Francisco in the early days.

    Someone must have pictures of these folks smoking, I wonder how long it is until they turn up on the internets?

    Stick that in your ‘end of privacy’ pipe and smoke it!

  17. There is no valid reason for marijuana to be illegal. There are huge negatives associated with it being illegal: crime, too many Americans in jail, paying for those jails with my tax dollars, denying student loans to anyone with a drug conviction, denying employment to those who test positive…

    The war on drugs is a war on the American people. End the war.

  18. I wonder what policy FB has regarding electronic cigarettes: it’s smoking related stuff indeed, but it’s also stuff intended to make people stop smoking.

  19. Uhhhhhh there’s one obvious problem with this. I’ve smoked pounds of marijuana in my life but neither I nor anyone I’ve met has smoked a pot leaf… I don’t get it. If it were a picture of buds they might have a basis but this is in no way similar to showing alcohol or tobacco consumption as the leaves are plant matter that is nothing but waste unless you happen to be putting in the time and effort to make hash by extracting the insignificant thc levels out of them. What a joke. This is like facebook saying an image of a leaf from a hops plant would violate terms of use for alcohol. I’m betting nobody would care or even notice

  20. So remove the leaf and post it again. It might not be fair, but which battle do you want to fight; the Facebook censorship battle or the legalize it battle?

  21. This story gets even better by the time it gets to Reddit. Reddit, being young and spry wanted to take money for the Just say Now marijuana ad in support of Prop 19 to regulate, tax, and control cannabis in 2010 in California, and then run the ad, of course. Conde Nast, old fuddy duddy parent company of Reddit tried to stand in the way, siting a policy of not taking money for ads for illegal drugs. Reddit, being young and clever decided to comply with Conde Nast’s exact request by running the marijuana ad but not taking any money for doing so. :) The people are done with willful ignorance, the media have nearly all hopped on board with medical marijuana at least, and many now support Prop 19 as well, and L.E.A.P. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is proving that cops can lead the United States out of our drug problem not by arresting drug users, but by supporting an end to prohibition altogether. End the drug war yesterday.

    Ty Palmer :: Founder

Comments are closed.