Are Search Engines Breaking State Law by Serving MDPV Ads?

Fahrenheit Marketing
Fahrenheit Marketing in Design

I recently noticed an interesting legal situation regarding Adwords and MDPV a chemical that is considered a controlled substance in Florida and Louisiana. MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone) is a chemical often sold or marketed as bath salts or research chemicals but can abused and reportedly gives a high similar to that of methamphetamine. The drug has recently come under scrutiny and there is a push to outlaw the drug nationwide.

Currently, it is perfectly legal to possess MDPV in every other state because they currently do not have laws that make it illegal and thus my focus is on Florida, Louisiana and Kentucky which currently have state laws against possession of MDPV. Since I do not live in any of those states, I decided to take screenshots for “mdpv” from the Adwords Preview Tool with the geographic location set to each state.

Screen A: Florida

MDPV Ad Preview Results for Florida

Screen B: Louisiana

MDPV Ad preview results for Louisiana

Screen C: Kentucky

MDPV Ad preview results for Kentucky

You will see that Google is showing ads for the banned substance in both states. Bing is showing ads as well but I don’t know how to do an ad preview for specific geographic areas within their interface

Google obviously is not supplying the drug but if someone in one of those states orders and receives it, they are now in violation of the law. The legal question I have is whether either search engine could face charges for providing a conduit between users and suppliers or whether they have any liability at all. Second, is the liability difference between displaying ads and simply indexing a site, does taking money make a legal difference? Can advertisers plead ignorance especially to technical terms?

One could argue that if a search engine shows ads for paint thinner then it is giving people access to something that can be abused but the difference is that possession of paint thinner is not a criminal violation whereas possession of MDPV in all three states is a criminal offense.