‘Marijuana’ ads fail Google policy test

Promotions from state dispensary rejected by leading search engine.

900x900.jpgChief cultivator Chuck Schmitt examines a plant during the first harvest of cannabis plants by Vireo Health of New York has begun at Tryon Technology Park and Incubator Center Thursday Nov. 12, 2015 in Perth, NY. Medical marijuana production licenses were granted by the state earlier this year. (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union)

Don’t try to Google the terms “medical marijuana” or “medical cannabis” and expect to find ads for dispensaries in New York.

The operator of one of five new medical marijuana providers in the state recently learned that the hard way.

When he tried to advertise with the search engine giant he found that ads with those terms — “medical cannabis” or “medical marijuana” — were rejected.

 While Google accepted other ads without those terms, it was akin to, say, Ford running a search engine ad without the term “car” or “truck,” said Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of New York, one of five providers recently licensed under the state’s Compassionate Care Act which allows limited use of medical marijuana.

“We are confident that our advertisements comply with Google’s policy,” Hoffnung wrote in a letter to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on Tuesday.

“Our products are sold strictly and exclusively for medicinal purposes and in conformance with New York State law.”

He noted Google AdWords has rejected seven advertisements from Vireo, citing a policy that prohibits “the promotion of substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation.”

But Hoffnung said the state’s medical marijuana law prevents such products being sold for recreational uses.

“It is difficult to understand or justify a policy that will impede a patient’s ability to access information about products that have been approved by the New York State legislature and have been identified as therapeutically beneficial,” Hoffnung added in his letter.

“These patients and their caregivers need access to this information, and if Google continues to deny this access, it is clearly contradicting one of its core values.”

Hoffnung, a former New York City deputy comptroller, said he has tried to talk with Google officials to no avail.

Google said in an email to the Times Union that it has global policies restricting a variety of medically related ads including prescription drugs, medical devices, sexual enhancement meds and other items in addition to marijuana.

Hoffnung said Google controls about two-thirds of the search engine market. He believes the terms “marijuana” or “cannabis” are needed for searches so people looking for treatment can readily find it.

“People spend about a millisecond scanning these things,” he told the Times Union.

As Vireo is asking Google to accept its ads, Democratic state Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried have introduced bills designed to ease access for medical patients.

The proposals would let nurses and physician assistants as well as physicians certify patients who want to used the substance.

According to a recent survey, fewer than 500 of the state’s approximately 90,000 doctors have gotten the training that allows them to certify patients.

There is also legislation that would double from 20 to 40 the number of dispensaries in the state.

Vireo has dispensaries in Queens, White Plains, and Binghamton. It is planning one for the Capital Region, Hoffnung said.

Vireo medical marijuana is produced at the former Tryon youth prison in Fulton County.



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