President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill in December, officially legalizing industrial hemp — but hemp entrepreneurs fear they’ll still struggle to promote their products.
According to two hemp entrepreneurs who spoke with Yahoo Finance, social media companies, search engines and payment processors reject their advertisements, ban their keywords, and strip them of lucrative accounts, while giving major retailers a pass.
“We’ve been rejected by almost every single digital media company that’s out there, any advertising platform, Facebook (FB), Instagram, Twitter (TWTR), Google (GOOG, GOOGL), Bing, Yahoo, the search engines,” Ari Sherman, founder of Boulder, Colorado-based Evo Hemp, said.
Sherman’s company sells THC-free hemp products, including energy bars, seeds, and protein, as well as CBD oil. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive biochemical found in hemp and marijuana plants, which is distinct from THC, or tetrahydrocannaabinol, the psychoactive biochemical found in marijuana. Both biochemicals are cannabinoids that interact with neurotransmitters, known as the endocannabinoid system.
Sherman says CBD is clouding the issue.
“We sell our [non-CBD food] products in Whole Foods Market, in Costco, in Kroger stores, even Barnes & Noble bookstores carry some of our hemp bars,” Sherman said. “Why can I not advertise a product that is currently being sold in these grocery stores?”
Sherman wants an answer to that question, and he wants to know why big box retailers are allowed to run paid ads for hemp products while his ads are shot down.
Same hemp. Different rules.
“They’re allowing them to advertise a few hemp products here and there,” Sherman said. “Versus us, we couldn’t promote those exact same items.”
Brittany Carbone, co-founder and CEO of New York-based hemp company, Tonic, knows hemp advertising struggles well. Her company grows hemp and manufactures CBD oils and dog treats under a state-licensed pilot program.
Because of competing federal and state laws, Carbone’s CBD products, unlike Sherman’s energy bars, seeds and protein powders, have a less certain legal status despite industrial hemp legalization.
State pilot programs, first authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, permitted states to oversee growth of industrial hemp plants and plant derivatives for research, so long as THC, the psychoactive biochemical found in both hemp and marijuana cannabis plants, remained below 0.3% concentration.
At the same time, cannabis plants and their derivatives remained federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, as federal law long failed to differentiate between marijuana and hemp.
Even with THC levels below 0.3%, CBD proved a tough sell for advertisers, regardless of any rights that producers like Carbone may have had to create products using hemp cultivated in accordance with state rules.
“You can make a really strong case that CBD grown and extracted from a state-authorized pilot program is legal,” as of adoption of the 2014 bill, Erica Stark, Executive Director of the National Hemp Association, said.