Google & Medical Marijuana Advertising

22 March 2016

Times report…

A Fulton County-based medical marijuana manufacturer sees retaliation in Google’s decision to reject two of its advertisements just hours after the New York company went public with complaints about the tech giant’s policies.

Google had previously rejected seven advertisements from Vireo Health of New York that contained the words “medical marijuana” or “medical cannabis,” but had allowed the company to run two ads without those phrases. After Vireo released a statement Friday complaining that Google’s decision prevented it from marketing its products, Google pulled the two ads it had previously allowed.

“We are shocked and dismayed that Google chose to retaliate instead of engaging in a constructive dialogue,” said Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of New York.

Google did not respond Monday to an inquiry about its latest decision regarding Vireo’s request to run paid ads. The California-based company said in an email Friday that its policies restrict a variety of medically related ads, including prescription drugs, medical devices and sexual enhancement products, in addition to marijuana.

Hoffnung said Vireo has spent the last month or so trying to discuss the advertising issue with Google. According to Vireo, Google’s stated policies prohibit the “promotion of substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation.” He said Vireo’s products are not meant for recreation, but sold in compliance with New York law to treat a restricted list of debilitating ailments.

The Fulton County company’s appeal to the public Friday was a “last resort,” Hoffnung said.

“We put this issue into the public domain hoping that some public pressure will help them do the right thing,” Hoffnung said.

Google is not the only big Internet name to block promotion of medical marijuana.

Facebook last year ordered Warren County-based Etain to take down its page, which the company set up shortly after being selected by the state to produce medical cannabis. Etain saw the Facebook page as the quickest way to get the word out about its launch, said spokesman Steve Stallmer.

But when activity on the page caught Facebook’s attention, the social media company said it could not promote marijuana.

“We weren’t trying to advertise, ‘this is black-market marijuana,'” Stallmer said. “Our argument was, we’re educating the public about a product that’s legal in the state of New York.”

Stallmer characterized the issue as part of a larger challenge of marketing its products in a digital world. But he emphasized that it’s not the biggest problem the company faces.

More important, Stallmer said, is that most of the state’s doctors are signing up to participate in the medical marijuana program.

Etain is hopeful that legislative proposals will pass allowing the cannabis producers to visit doctors directly to discuss the drug, the way sales representatives for big pharmaceutical companies do.

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