Google Relaxes Ban on CBD Advertising

Alphabet Inc.’s

Google in January will start running ads for some products made with CBD for the first time, in a program designed to test the loosening of its rules on promoting the cannabis-derived substance formally called cannabidiol.

The news represents a small breakthrough for CBD product owners, which have long been blocked by some technology companies from advertising online. 

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“Google’s decision to open the door for some CBD products to advertise is a step in the right direction,” said Lisa Buffo, founder and chief executive of the Cannabis Marketing Association. “The opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers, where they are, is long overdue.”

The pilot comes in response to the prevalence and widespread availability of CBD products, a Google spokesman said. The company in October reported its fifth consecutive quarter of slowing sales growth, with its YouTube video platform posting a drop in advertising revenue for the first time since the company began reporting the unit’s performance. 

Google, which remains the world’s largest digital advertising company, on Jan. 20 will update two of its ad policies to allow for the promotion of pharmaceuticals containing CBD that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in a pilot program.

It will also run ads for topical, hemp-derived products so long as their content of tetrahydrocannabinol—the psychoactive substance found in the cannabis plant—is measured at less than 0.3%. These include products such as candles, bath bombs and beauty products.

The approved ads in the pilot will initially only be shown to users in California, Colorado and Puerto Rico. They won’t be shown to users identified as under the age of 18, and on certain ad formats such as masthead YouTube banners.

Ads promoting other CBD-based products, including supplements, food additives and inhalants, will continue not to be accepted by Google’s ad business. But Google will remove CBD from its ad business’s list of banned pharmaceuticals and supplements, according to a company blog-post published Thursday.

The relaxation follows similar moves by Twitter Inc., which in 2019 approved some advertisers of non-ingestible, topical CBD products to target U.S. users with ads in most states. Many large digital advertising companies, including

Amazon.com Inc.

and

Facebook

and Instagram-owner Meta Platforms Inc., still prohibit ads promoting CBD and cannabis products. 

“Allowing all businesses to advertise their lawful products would provide the potential for increased revenue and exposure to customers who may be looking for reputable products but do not know where to turn.”


— Dafna Revah, vice president of CBD Kratom

But some executives in the CBD sector say Google’s pilot doesn’t go far enough, fast enough. Hemp-based CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal under federal law, and as such, responsible merchants should be allowed to advertise them more widely online, they say. 

“Allowing all businesses to advertise their lawful products would provide the potential for increased revenue and exposure to customers who may be looking for reputable products but do not know where to turn,” said Dafna Revah, vice president of CBD Kratom, a national CBD and cannabis-product retailer. 

Liz Dolinski, chief marketing officer of health and sexual wellness company Foria, which uses CBD in its products, said she was disappointed in the limited scope of Google’s pilot program.

“Allowing CBD products to fully use Google’s platform would unlock a lot of other marketing opportunities for Foria because so many other peripheral marketing technologies and platforms link into Google’s ecosystem,” she added. 

Companies that make CBD products have up until now been forced to get creative to promote their wares online—posting on social-media accounts, investing in press relations and even setting up virtual shop in the metaverse

Google will consider user and advertiser feedback before considering expanding CBD advertising to locations outside of the three test markets, the spokesman said. 

The company has enlisted LegitScript, a Portland. Ore.-based compliance company, to certify merchants before they can advertise CBD products on Google. Vetted advertisers will also be subject to Google’s misrepresentation policy, which aims to disallow ads containing spurious claims, including cures for incurable medical ailments, the company said.

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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Google Relaxes Ban on CBD Advertising

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