Cannabis advertising has always been a precarious art. From first amendment commercial speech issues to zealous state marketing and promotion regulations to false claim lawsuits, cannabis advertising can go down some dark rabbit holes. Notoriously, tech giants like Instagram and Facebook would take down cannabis-related ad content for violating site terms and conditions around the promotion of illegal substances and recreational drugs. Google was also on this list, and we all know how critical Google is for online advertising. However, Google recently has decided to relax its advertising policies– at least around hemp and hemp CBD products. But not all cannabis advertising is created equal on Google. You still won’t be able to open advertise your cannabis-related services without the risk of getting shut down.
CBD advertising changes at Google
Last month, Google announced that it’s updating its cannabis advertising rules. On January 20, 2023, the Dangerous Products and Services and Healthcare and Medicines Google Ads policies will allow for the promotion of “FDA-approved pharmaceuticals containing cannabidiol (CBD) and topical, hemp-derived CBD products with THC content of 0.3% or less in California, Colorado, and Puerto Rico”. Additionally, CBD will be removed from Google’s Unapproved Pharmaceuticals and Supplements List.
Google states that in the U.S., only topical CBD products that have been certified by LegitScript can be promoted on Google. LegitScript is an “internet and payments compliance company that provides services for merchant monitoring, platform monitoring, and certification in high-risk industries”. Certification requires that all advertisers must : (1) provide samples of their CBD product to test for compliance with legal THC limits (see below); and (2) provide LegitScript a third-party Certificate of Analysis. FDA-approved CBD pharma products won’t be certified by LegitScript. Applicants will all pay a fee to LegitScript to complete the process. Google will then certify all of the applicants that make it past LegitScript. Sounds pretty easy to engage in cannabis advertising on Google now, right? Think again.
LegitScript CBD certification standards
LegitScript has already released its CBD certification standards for cannabis advertising, and they are comprehensive. See here. Advertisers will, among many other things, need to:
Demonstrate the product’s compliance with all other (legal and regulatory) standards.
To the extent that licensure or registration is required in any jurisdiction where the product is manufactured, processed, or sold, demonstrate the product’s compliance with such requirements.
Provide supply chain documentation for all products. The product should adhere to all supply chain-related regulatory requirements and be manufactured consistent with good manufacturing practices. The applicant must provide a Certificate of Analysis demonstrating the CBD used in the final product complies with federal laws regarding the cultivation and processing of hemp.
Provide to a testing facility approved by LegitScript, unexpired, random samples of products submitted for certification for testing. Such products must contain the advertised amount of hemp-derived compounds and must comply with legal requirements related to cannabinoid substances and ingredient levels.
Demonstrate that products submitted for certification were produced in compliance with all USDA and state hemp-cultivation requirements, or are otherwise exempt from such requirements.
Show that the applicant or product manufacturer, including any associated personnel, businesses, or websites, must not have been subject to significant recent and/or repeated instances of improper legal compliance, disciplinary sanctions, or other regulatory action (e.g., those FDA letters). Prior offenses or other bad acts by the applicant or product manufacturer, including any prior regulatory discipline may be a disqualifying factor, in LegitScript’s sole discretion.
Submit the applicant’s corporate officers, directors, or those exercising control over significant business decisions to criminal background checks conducted at LegitScript’s request, and those same persons must disclose any prior criminal, regulatory, or civil violations. Applicant must also disclose any litigation commenced, resolved, or otherwise addressed that involves applicant at any time over the past 10 years. Prior offenses or other bad acts, including any prior regulatory discipline may be a disqualifying factor, in LegitScript’s sole discretion.
Adehere to Google’s terms of service for advertising in all capacities. If LegitScript discovers that your advertising isn’t kosher in all regards, it may be grounds for certification denial.
Don’t get too excited
Obviously, Google is minding its Ps and Qs regarding compliance with the FDA’s current position on CBD. It does not want to be caught assisting in violations of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act and it doesn’t want to inadvertently assist anyone trafficking in cannabis containing more than .3% THC. In turn, all ads promoting other CBD-based products, including supplements, food additives, and inhalants, won’t be allowed. And any product containing more than .3% THC (i.e., cannabis) certainly won’t be allowed on Google unless we see a change in federal law (despite state law to the contrary).
In sum, while Google is opening the door on some cannabis advertising for FDA-approved CBD and CBD topicals, it’s going to be a relatively heavy lift to get through LegitScript’s vetting process. Still, it’s progress.