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Medical Marijuana Company Calls On Google To Accept Its Ads

WAMC, Allison Dunne

One of New York’s medical marijuana dispensaries is calling on Google to accept its ads. In addition, the company’s CEO accuses the global search engine of retaliation.

Vireo Health of New York CEO Ari Hoffnung last week called on Google to stop rejecting its medical cannabis ads. Hoffnung says Google AdWords, however, did accept two ads several weeks ago that did not use the terms medical cannabis or medical marijuana, yet now those have been rejected as well.

“We received what seems to be an automated email on Friday afternoon at about 4 p.m. stating that our ads have now been rejected and that Google prohibits the promotion of recreational marijuana, which is just a baffling reason to disapprove our ads,” says Hoffnung.

Baffling, he says, given recreational marijuana use is illegal in New York. Moreover, Hoffnung interprets the latest rejection as retaliatory, given that just a few days earlier, he went public with his plea for Google to accept medical marijuana ads from companies like his operating in states where it is legal.

“And it’s quite unfortunate, in our minds, that Google has chosen retaliation instead of engagement and dialogue,” says Hoffnung.

A Google spokesperson, in an emailed response, pointed to the company’s global policies that generally restrict the promotion of healthcare-related content such as prescription medication. Google also has an ad policy about banning the promotion of substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation or otherwise induce "highs,” such as marijuana. The policy does not distinguish between recreational and medical marijuana at the state level. In New York, it is not legal to smoke medical marijuana.

Additional requests for comment from Google about why the two generic ads were rejected were not answered. The emailed reason from Google AdWords to Hoffnung cites “Recreational drugs, services, & related equipment.”

Hoffnung says he has attempted to reach Google executives via email, phone, and FedEx to discuss the matter, to no avail. He wrote directly to Google’s co-founders March 15.

“Imagine Google telling Hershey’s they couldn’t use the word ‘chocolates’ or Ford they can’t use the word ‘car’ or WAMC that they can’t use the word ‘radio’ in their advertisements,” Hoffnung says. “Google is severely limiting the way we’re able to communicate with our patients.”

Hoffnung says he has tried placing ads only with Google given its mammoth reach. He still holds out hope that Google executives will come to the table for discussion. Vireo Health of New York is one of five companies licensed by the New York State Department of Health to produce and sell medical cannabis. Vireo has locations in White Plains, in Westchester County, Queens, Binghamton, and Albany.

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