(UPDATE: In late October 2017, Facebook re-published the page following several appeals by Safer Arizona, according to David Wisniewski. He's still not sure why it was taken down in May. He said he plans to create posts on both the original, restored page and the Safer Arizona 2018 Facebook page.)
Arizona's only marijuana-legalization effort for 2018 suffered a setback this week after the campaign's main Facebook page went dark.
"My heart's, like, sort of broken," Safer Arizona chair David Wisniewski said Thursday. "It was the single largest reach we had."
Facebook shut down the page on Wednesday evening, informing the pro-cannabis, political grassroots group that it had violated unspecified company policies.
Wisniewski said the group has appealed the shutdown, but he's still not sure which policy the company believes was violated. The group didn't violate any Facebook policy, Wisniewski asserted.
"We haven't gotten a response yet," he said. "I don't know if it's anything I did."
The shutdown affected two other local pro-cannabis sites, CannaLoveBus, and Human Solutions.
Safer Arizona has spent the last few years building up its site, Facebook.com/SaferAZ, growing it to more than 24,000 contacts. Wisniewski and other Safer Arizona members used the page as their primary method of contacting supporters and building up a volunteer force to help get petitions signed.
Safer Arizona launched its highly permissive cannabis-legalization campaign in February, hoping to use an all-volunteer force to collect more than 150,000 valid voter signatures by July 2018.
The group's proposed citizens' initiative, which supporters hope to see on the 2018 ballot, would allow personal possession of cannabis in unrestricted amounts, a nearly unregulated, unrestricted commercial cultivation and retail industry, and the freedom for individuals to grow — and sell — up to 48 plants.
However, as Phoenix New Times has pointed out, the grassroots group presents a sort of amateur-hour approach with a shoestring campaign budget and initiative that conservative Arizona voters are unlikely to approve even if it did make the ballot. Safer Arizona's obstacles include healing a rift in the cannabis community that its members helped create by their opposition to Prop 205, the legalization initiative that Arizona voters rejected in November.
The heavy reliance on a single Facebook site that is now offline provides yet another example that the group could be better run. Wisniewski and the group are now steering supporters to a second Facebook site and its Twitter site, which has so far been underutilized. The group's web page, SaferArizona.com, lists a misspelled e-mail address as a contact method.
The three sites shut down by Facebook all share one commonality: local cannabis activist Stacey Theis.
She ran the CannaLoveBus and Human Solutions sites, and was an official editor of the now-defunct Safer Arizona site. She and other cannabis proponents toured all over Arizona in her colorful, pot-themed bus before the November election, promoting a more liberal type of legalization than Prop 205 offered.
Theis is currently living in Michigan, working as an executive assistant to a Michigan dispensary owner. She told New Times that Facebook could be reacting to unwarranted complaints about her by another Michigan dispensary partner she knows.
"It seems like it's from this guy," she said. "I don't know what he did."
Theis' two pro-cannabis sites were strictly educational, she said, and did not advertise for any dispensaries.
She could be right about Facebook's concern: Theis isn't the only one with a "canna-bus," or a site promoting a cannabis-themed bus. Yet other pro-cannabis "bus" sites, like CannaBUS of Colorado, remain up on Facebook. That seems to indicate the problem isn't cannabis, or a canna-bus.
On the other hand, Wisniewski acknowledged that the Safer Arizona site directed visitors to a couple of medical-marijuana dispensary sites. Could that have been the issue? Wisniewski said he would like some answers, but so far cannot get any.
Facebook's anti-cannabis-promotion policy has been the subject of much debate, with standards seeming to be applied inconsistently at times.
In 2015, the social-media powerhouse began a policy of disallowing cannabis activism sites to promote their content or posts, discouraging the flow of educational material.
Early last year, Facebook shut down numerous dispensary sites in Arizona and elsewhere, stating that the sites violated a policy on promoting illegal drug use. How it enforces that policy is unclear, since numerous Arizona dispensaries currently advertise on Facebook.
For now, Arizona's only marijuana-legalization campaign must scramble to reach supporters and promote its other social media and internet sites.
"We're getting more active on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube," Wisniewski said. "But these are long-term projects. We might not be able to build them up fast enough. But we're still getting volunteers. The machine is still running."
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