Google released an announcement this month that explains an update to its “Dangerous Products and Services and Healthcare and Medicines.” As of Jan. 20, 2023, cannabis advertising will be allowed, but currently only in California, Colorado, and Puerto Rico.
Specifically, this update pertains to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved products that contain CBD, or topical, hemp-derived CBD products with 0.3% or less THC. “Certain formats, including YouTube Masthead, will not be eligible for serving. CBD will be removed from the Unapproved Pharmaceuticals and Supplements list. All ads promoting other CBD-based products, including supplements, food additives, and inhalants, continue to be disallowed,” Google states.
Google is partnering with LegitScript to create a certification program for non-ingestible CBD manufacturers. LegitScript CEO Scott Roth explained how the certification aims to create a standard for the cannabis industry. “When people see the LegitScript seal on your product or website, they know that you operate safely and transparently,” said Roth. “In an industry that is still seeing widespread problems with products that are tainted, substandard, or illegal, it’s more important than ever to give consumers confidence that the CBD products they’re purchasing have been properly vetted.”
LegitScript works with other payment service providers such as Visa, Google, Bing, and Facebook. “LegitScript Certification lets the world know which healthcare merchants, CBD products and websites, and drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities operate safely and transparently,” the company states in a press release. “The result? Certified merchants can stand out from the crowd, grow their online presence, and demonstrate credibility in high-risk industries. LegitScript is the leading third-party certification expert in these tightly regulated and complex sectors.”
LegitScript will charge a fee for processing and monitoring applicants (although the company’s website says that fees are waived through March 31, 2023). Applicants may submit their websites for a LegitScript certification in order to advertise on Google. After LegitScript certifies a website, they will be given “information on demonstrating your certified status,” such as a LegitScript “Seal of Approval” that can be displayed on a certified website.
LegitScript’s starting fees per CBD product vary between $650 for one to five products, decreasing for brackets including $600 for six to 50 products, $550 for 51 to 99, and finally $500 for 100 or more. There is also an annual monitoring fee that ranges between $750 to $1,000 depending on the number of CBD products as well. Full websites require an $800 fee per website, with either a $1,600 annual fee per website, or $2,250 annually for a “probationary website” for websites with “a past history of significant compliance issues.”
This move is a step in the right direction for hemp products, although there is currently no mention of expanding this new update to other states yet.
In the past, there have been some negative interactions between Google and cannabis-related content. In 2016, one Minnesota-based medical cannabis company fought against Google for banning it from advertising online due to having “dangerous products or services.” That same year, Google saw a 75% increase in cannabis searches online, and allowed games about the War on Drugs to be promoted on Google Play.
In 2017, Google Docs temporarily labeled documents, including those relating to cannabis, as inappropriate (although the event was considered to be due to a coding error and was promptly fixed).
In July 2019, Google announced that cannabis products would be banned from the app store, and during the height of the vaping epidemic later that year, Apple also removed all vaping-related apps from the iOS store.