Three of New Jersey's five medical marijuana dispensaries have had their business pages shut down by Facebook, cutting off what advocates call an integral place for customers to learn about which plant strains best treat their illness and where to find discounts.
Compassionate Sciences in Bellmawr, Garden State in Woodbridge and Breakwater Treatment and Wellness in Cranbury had their pages shut down this week.
Facebook's advertising policy bans promotion of selling drugs — as well as tobacco and guns — and the medical marijuana pages weren't spared even though they have been legally allowed to operate in New Jersey since 2011.
The shutdowns reflect similar measures taken by the social media giant in other parts of the country. At one point last year, Facebook took down the page for the Harborside Health Center, a dispensary in Oakland, Calif., although the page is now up and running.
Facebook officials didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
'Disservice' to patients
"It's doing a real disservice to the patients of New Jersey," said Peter Rosenfeld, a board member of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana - New Jersey. "They're treating it like they're selling marijuana illegally when it's a fully sanctioned non-profit that's controlled and regulated by the state of New Jersey."
More than 5,500 patients have registered for medical marijuana in New Jersey and more than 300 doctors have participated.
Amy Marie Keller, 40, of Roselle Park, N.J., said she checked the Garden State dispensary's Facebook page daily. She suffers from Variegate porphyria, a disorder that limits the amount of oxygen in her blood and can cause seizures and painful intestinal issues.
The marijuana strains that work best for her — Blackwater, Sour Diesel and Nigerian Haze — are often in limited supply. Knowing when they're available is important, she said.
"Now I have no idea," she said. "I tried calling but they didn't pick up. Probably everybody is calling. I would hate to tie up their phone lines and bother them every morning about that."
Pages facilitate discussion
Mike Nelson, the general manager for Compassionate Sciences dispensary, said Facebook has been the business's primary communication tool. The dispensary announced on Facebook, rather than on its website, that it has a new or cheaper strain of marijuana that is high in properties that help treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has also served as an online forum for quality control when it comes to various brands, which carry names like Charlotte's Web and Golden Goat. Advocates say the pages facilitate discussion among customers and purveyors about the benefits and drawbacks of certain strains.
"There's nothing out there that says the Golden Goat in California is the same one as the Golden Goat in New Jersey," Nelson said. "It makes it more localized, which is important because there are no control factors."
Aaron Epstein, the general manager and general counsel for Garden State, said he'll find another way to serve patients if Facebook continues its policy.
"If Facebook doesn't want to be a part of that, that's their prerogative," he said. "We'll find other avenues to get information to our patients."