When it comes to cannabis, not all apps are treated equal.
Google’s Play and Apple’s app stores are home to hundreds of cannabis-related apps, but one that aims to cut the middlemen by connecting growers with customers in California — which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 — just got yanked from the virtual shelf.
Loud Cannabis, whose app debuted on Google Play last summer, was recently kicked out of the app store. “We had no indication they were going to pull the rug out from under our feet,” Loud Cannabis founder Josh Artman said.
Google declined to comment.
Apple’s app store never approved the Loud Cannabis app and has tussled with marijuana app developers before.
In January, the National Cannabis Indusry Association with the support of dozens of marijuana businesses wrote to Apple, pushing for it to loosen restrictions on marijuana apps after MassRoots (MSRT), a social networking app targeting marijuana users got kicked out of the store.
“We are not asking for Apple to endorse cannabis-related applications or their content; we are simply requesting that Apple’s customers have the right to download marijuana apps if they so choose,” said the letter.
By the time it was kicked out, MassRoots, now two years old, had been in the app store for 14 months. Apple eventually relented and let the app back in, but the guidelines for cannabis apps are still unclear.
“We still don’t have any published rules,” MassRoots cofounder and CEO Isaac Dietrich said.
Cannabis apps aren't the only ones operating in something of a haze when it comes to app stores.
Apple last month pulled several Civil War apps from its store that included images of Confederate flags. It later reinstated some apps, telling TechCrunch that its intent was only to remove those apps that could be offensive and not apps using the flags for educational or historical purposes.
Apple requires apps to “comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users,” a rule that's complicated considering recreational and medicinal marijuana has been legalized in a number of states but remains illegal at the federal level.
Google's Play store instructs developers to “Keep it legal. Don't engage in unlawful activities on this product, such as the sale of prescription drugs without a prescription.”
Casey Eastman, a Denver-based app developer for Weedmaps, fielded more than a dozen rejections on the way to getting the dispensary directory into both Apple and Google's app stores.
"I have at least four apps in the Apple queue, and only one has been published to the app store," he said. "As it is, it's easy to be rejected. It's frustrating."
Apple rejects about 30% of the 26,000 apps it receives for review each week, the company told a congressional committee in 2012.
But app developers' frustrations don't stop once an app makes it into the store. Each time an update is made, the app must be reviewed again. "It's never a quick thing," Eastman said.
Eaze, the marijuana delivery app backed by investors including Snoop Dogg, has spent the past year trying to get its consumer app into Apple’s app store.
“To understand fully what their position is you have to jump through a lot of hoops,” Jamie Feaster, head of marketing for Eaze, said describing the process of negotiating a route into Apple’s app store.
Apple has approved an enterprise app its drivers use, and Eaze already is part of the Google Play store.
“There seems to be an eagerness to work with companies in this emerging market, but the issue seems to be playing nice by federal regulations,” Feaster said, noting that delivery companies seem to face higher barriers to entry.
Still, Eaze isn’t too discouraged by Apple’s rejection. “An app isn’t necessary, but it’s sort of a nice to have,” Feaster said. “What we built for mobile web is responsive and has a lot of the same features that an app would.”
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