Cancer patients who Google the words "chemotherapy nausea" today get a host of advertisements for treatment, including pills, skin patches and folk remedies used to prevent vomiting. Next month, however, the same search will turn up an ad for something a bit more controversial: medical marijuana.
The change comes courtesy of the charitable unit of Google, which last week gifted a Michigan medical marijuana advocacy group $120,000 worth of its services. As part of the grant, the group, Michigan Compassion, will be able to promote medical marijuana use through Google's popular AdWords platform -- the plain-text advertisements that pop up to the right side of any given search result.
Michigan Compassion does not sell marijuana but connects patients and growers, and it says the ads will appear alongside searches likely to be made by chemotherapy patients.
“The goal is to link the negative effects of chemotherapy and the positive effects of cannabis,” Amish Parikh, vice-president of Michigan Compassion, told The Huffington Post.
The ads' value is small in the scheme of Google's AdWords program, which brings in over $40 billion per year in revenue, but they represent a change for the Mountain View, Calif. firm, which has a strict policy against hosting ads for marijuana-related searches.
Google's new generosity toward marijuana advocates fits neatly in Silicon Valley, however, where tech companies and their employees have been quietly contributing to cannabis activism, an area attorney involved in the marijuana legalization movement told The Huffington Post.
“They’re not the ones coming to the city council meetings to protest, but they quietly send in their donations,” attorney Lauren Vazquez said. “And they’re definitely consuming the cannabis,” she added.
A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on whether the grant made to Michigan Compassion meant the company was taking an advocacy position in favor of medical marijuana. AdWords has a policy against allowing advertisements for drugs and drug paraphernalia, but is allowing the Michigan Compassion ads since the organization does not directly supply such products. Google does not allow advertisers to link their ads to searches with words like “cannabis” and “marijuana.”
The spokeswoman said the ads would not appear in web searches done by those using a “family safe” filter, and text would show up only in states where medical marijuana is legal. (While legal for medical use in 19 states and the District of Columbia, possessing marijuana for any purpose remains a federal crime.)
It’s been noted before that the culture inside California tech companies is highly supportive of marijuana use, with on-the-job drug testing extremely rare. According to a Businessweek article on the topic earlier this year, the city of San Jose, where many industry workers live, has more than 100 pot clinics, and it's considered normal for programmers to soothe the stress of long days hunched over a computer with a visit to one of those retailers.
“I think Silicon Valley is very supportive,” said Michigan Compassion's Parikh. “There’s a lot of testing the waters, though.”
LinkedIn, the professional social networking company also based in Mountain View, is providing Michigan Compassion with free services to help reach potential donors and board members, according to Parikh.
An email requesting comment from LinkedIn was not returned.
Michigan Compassion has also received donated equipment and software from other tech companies channeled through San Francisco-based TechSoup Global. And Vertical Response, an email marketing firm also based in San Francisco, provided the group with several thousand dollars' worth of free marketing technology.
A spokeswoman for Vertical Response, Connie Sung Moyle, said Michigan Compassion was not given a grant specifically due to the nature of its work but as a result of its non-profit status. Moyle said Vertical Response has provided in-kind donations to some 2,600 charities since 2005. “We don’t really discriminate either way as long as what they’re doing is above the law,” she said.