Pubdate: Sat, 14 May 2016
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2016 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


Minnesota Company Is Petitioning Search Engine Giant to Accept Ads.

Thousands of people have signed a Minnesota company's petition to 
Google, asking the search engine to accept online ads for medical marijuana.

Minnesota-based Vireo Health has been trying for months to get Google 
to accept ads for a string of clinics it operates in New York. But 
Google rejected each ad, citing its policy against promoting 
"dangerous products or services."

So Vireo - the parent company of Minnesota Medical Solutions, one of 
this state's two designated medical cannabis retailers - circulated a 
petition on Change. org, asking the company to reconsider. As of 
Friday afternoon, the petition had more than 13,000 signatures from 
across the country.

"Google's policy is baffling," the petition reads in part. "Google 
willingly accepts ads that promote highly addictive painkillers, like 
OxyContin, that are responsible for thousands of deaths each year, 
but rejects medical cannabis ads that could, in many cases, be a 
significantly safer therapeutic option for patients."

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, the Minnesota emergency room physician who 
co-founded Vireo and MinnMed, said Google has not responded since its 
initial rejection in March. Google has a long-standing ban on ads for 
products such as tobacco, explosives and recreational drugs.

"The vast majority of the populace is on our side in this," Kingsley 
said. "Google's a good company. I'm surprised they have a policy like 
this. I think they'll change, I really do ... I don't know if we have 
to get 15,000 signatures, or what it will take. This is about patient access."

Medical marijuana is legal in 24 states, but Google's ad ban is 
unlikely to put much of a dent in its bottom line - Google took in 
$19.1 billion in ad revenue in the first quarter of this year.

Kingsley said Vireo has no way of knowing what effect the ad ban is 
having on its clinics. The Google blackout is just one hurdle 
marijuana start-ups face in a country where the federal government 
still considers cannabis an illicit drug with no recognized medical 
value. Banks and credit card companies are reluctant to do business 
with companies that grow and sell marijuana, and those companies also 
miss out on business tax breaks.

Minnesota and New York have similar restrictive medical marijuana 
programs, and clinics in both states have struggled to bring in 
customers. Both limit who can use medical marijuana, who can sell it 
and in what form. Almost a year after legalization, there are 1,324 
patients enrolled with Minnesota's Office of Medical Cannabis.

"We would love to be able to advertise there, for people looking for 
treatment for their chronic pain," Kingsley said.

In August, Minnesota clinics will open their doors to patients 
suffering intractable pain that has not responded to standard 
treatments or therapies. To get into the program, patients need their 
doctor to certify to the state that they have one of the handful of 
critical or terminal illnesses that the state has approved for 
treatment with medical marijuana. Right now, those conditions range 
from seizure disorders and certain cancers to AIDS and Crohn's disease.

Once certified, patients often face long drives to one of three 
clinics currently operating in the state, and the sticker shock of 
paying for medication priced well above street value. The price of a 
month's supply of medical cannabis in Minnesota can range from less 
than $100 to well over $1,000, depending on the patient and their 
condition. No insurance will cover the cost of a marijuana 
prescription. Minnesota allows marijuana to be sold only as pills or 
liquids. Smoking the plant itself remains illegal.

Bringing in pain patients could potentially bring in thousands of new 
customers, which could help drive down prices. Advocates hope it 
could also lead to a drop in deaths from prescription painkillers. A 
2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association 
reported a sharp decline in narcotic overdose deaths - a drop of up 
to 25 percent in some cases - in states with medical marijuana programs.

You can read Vireo's petition at 
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