Just when it seemed the medical cannabis industry in Westchester and the rest of New York State was poised to take off, there has been a new wrinkle: Internet search giant Google has been blocking ads designed for patients suffering from conditions like cancer, ALS, and HIV/AIDS who could potentially benefit from medical marijuana. Citing Google’s advertising policy that prohibits “the promotion of substances that alter mental state for the purpose of recreation,” Google AdWords has rejected seven advertisements from Vireo Health of New York, which is one of five companies licensed by the New York State Department of Health to produce and sell medical cannabis, and runs a White Plains dispensary. (Learn more about Vireo and medical marijuana in Westchester in our January 2016 feature.)
In response, Vireo executives are urging Google to rethink its actions. “We are confident that our advertisements comply with Google’s policy,” wrote Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung in a letter to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on March 15, 2016. “Our products are sold strictly and exclusively for medicinal purposes and in conformance with New York State law.”
Because Vireo’s products cannot be sold or used for recreational purposes under the New York State Compassionate Care Act, the company believes that Google’s rejection is a misapplication of the company’s own policy, as well as a potential violation of First Amendment and antitrust laws.
“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,” added Hoffnung. “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.”
Vireo officials say they have repeatedly attempted to engage with Google to discuss this situation, and to date, Google has not responded to any of these requests.