Apple Formally Rejecting Most Marijuana Apps

By McCarton Ackerman 01/27/15

Meanwhile, Android and Google Play are approving weed apps within minutes.

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Despite marijuana legalization continuing to push forward in numerous states across the U.S., Apple isn't changing its stance on drug-related apps for the foreseeable future.

The company officially removed MassRoots, a social media app rooted in the cannabis space, from its App Store. Other pot-related businesses have also publicly expressed their frustration with Apple rejecting their apps, but the company has justified their decisions based on their legal guidelines.

One of the primary rules in their guidelines is that "apps must comply with legal requirements in any locations where they are made available to users," which would disqualify marijuana-based apps in most states.

"We have great investors and a war chest to work with," said Isaac Dietrich, CEO of MassRoots. "But Apple is censoring the cannabis movement right now and it's slowing down innovation in the cannabis industry to a greater extent than the federal government. I can't believe that [Apple CEO] Tim Cook is letting this happen."

Weed app developers have been upset with Apple for rejecting their apps without explanation, making it difficult to figure out what needs to be tweaked in order for the app to get approved. Because the company won't explicitly state their terms of acceptability, developers claim they have been wasting time and money. Dietrich noted that almost of all the apps that came out of the Marijuana Tech Startup Competition, hosted by MassRoots last September, have been rejected by Apple.

"Apple is going to find what works for them legally, so they're not concerned about repercussions from the government," said Casey Eastman, lead iOS developer for Denver-based app Weedmaps. "But, I wish they'd communicate that: 'Hey, we're worried about this, so we can't allow you to do this.' Instead, you submit it and they say, 'No, that won't fly.' You say, 'What about if we do this?' They say, 'We look forward to reviewing your app.'"

Perhaps surprisingly, pot apps have breezed through the same application process on both Android and Google Play. Zach Marburger, CEO of development firm CannaBuild, said the company's marijuana cooking calculator was approved by Android "in five minutes and rejected by Apple in 10 days."

Marburger also managed to get his Whaxy app, which lets users skip lines in pot dispensaries, approved by Apple. But even though he's had some success in working with Apple, he expects that to be the exception and not the rule.

"I just assume that every submission will get rejected until they do otherwise," he said. "With Apple, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.