Company behind Elmhurst medical marijuana dispensary takes on Google

By Bill Parry

The company that opened the borough’s first medical marijuana dispensary, the Queens Patient Center in Elmhurst, in January is battling Google over the corporate giant’s refusal to carry its advertisements because it used the words “medical marijuana” or “medical cannabis.”

Vireo Health of New York at 89-55 Queens Blvd. sent a letter to the Internet search company last week urging it to change its policy and accept its submissions.

“It is hard to understand where they are coming from,” Vireo Health of New York CEO Ari Huffnung said. “Google’s policy is that they will not accept ads that promote recreational drugs.”

After the letter was received, Google rejected two advertisements that had been accepted because they did not include the terms ‘medical marijuana’ or ‘medical cannabis.’

“We are shocked and dismayed that Google chose to retaliate instead of engaging in a constructive dialogue,” Hoffnung said. “We continue to call on Google to stay true to their ‘do no evil’ corporate values and lift those restrictions preventing us from freely communicating with New Yorkers suffering from life-threatening and debilitating conditions like cancer, ALS and HIV/AIDS.”

In his letter to Google Co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Hoffnung wrote that Vireo’s products are sold strictly and exclusively for medicinal purposes and in conformance with New York law and that the products legally cannot be, sold or used for recreational purposes.

“We are talking about one of the most powerful companies on Planet Earth setting policies that impact the lives of millions of people,” Hoffnung said. “When you have that level of power, it comes with a special degree of responsibility. It is incumbent on Google to develop more thoughtful and nuanced advertising policy.”

He said the service provided by Google AdWords in which Vireo’s advertisement would show up in certain keyword searches, is more valuable than traditional print advertising. Vireo plans on resubmitting its advertisement again

“Look, 60 to 70 percent of online searches go through Google,” Hoffnung said. “To be barred from that platform makes it very difficult for us.”

He has not heard back from Brin, Page or anyone else from Google.

“Their reason doesn’t make any sense and it is baffling and disappointing that we don’t have a response from them yet,” Hoffnung said.

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Vireo Health, the parent company of Vireo Health of New York, took Google to task.

“As a physician, it’s hard to understand why Google willingly accepts ads that promote highly addictive painkillers, like OxyContin, that are responsible for thousands of deaths each year, but knowingly rejects medical cannabis ads that could, in many cases, be a significantly safer therapeutic option for patients,” he said.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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