From left, Isaac Dietrich, Hyler Fortier and Austin Hayslip discuss a business brochure during a staff meeting Thursday at MassRoots in Denver. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

App Store denials: Apple just says no to many pot iPhone apps

On the same November day that saw more than 1 million people in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., vote to legalize recreational marijuana, a popular social media app rooted in the cannabis space was removed from Apple’s massive commercial marketplace known as the App Store.

“The App Store is one of the largest content distribution channels in the world, and we’d already been on there for 14 months,” said Isaac Dietrich, CEO of Denver-based social media outfit MassRoots. “After we were taken down from the App Store, I called Apple back on election day and the guy said they had amended the App Store policy on cannabis social apps.

“I told him, ‘You do know that Oregon, Alaska and D.C. are about to push legalization through.’ He said the executives in the App Store said this content isn’t the kind of content they want to see in the App Store.”

Apple told The Denver Post its policies on marijuana apps have not changed. Its legal guideline 22.1 says, “Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users.”

The typically private Apple would not comment on individual companies’ complaints.

But Dietrich says something must have changed within the corporation recently. And his complaint against Apple isn’t the only one from the marijuana tech space.

While cannabis legalization continues to push forward in the U.S., there are countless roadblocks still awaiting the legal pot industry — especially given the plant’s precarious relationship with federal law, which still lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug.

The App Store’s strict restrictions could make the marketplace cannabis’ most heated tech battleground. After MassRoots’ petition to Apple secured more than 10,000 signatures in two weeks, several other pot-related businesses are starting to gripe publicly about their negative experiences with Apple.

Casey Eastman, a developer with Denver-based Weedmaps, said: “I’d be surprised if I’m not pushing 20 rejections (from Apple) in the last couple of years. And that’s my professional record. But I guess failure is part of experience.”

Michael Pycher is the co-founder of Los Angeles outfit Nestdrop: “It’s been beyond frustrating dealing with Apple,” he said. “They don’t seem to have a pulse on what a lot of consumers want. And they’re not privy to listen.”

Zach Marburger, the CEO of Colorado-based development firm CannaBuild, said: “The issues with Apple have been all people are talking about in the last two weeks in the marijuana tech underground. If enough people cry foul, Apple will listen.”

Samuel Miller is the co-CEO at New York start-up Hempdex: “We’d already invested close to $5,000-$10,000 on our (Apple) iOS app before we realized others were getting turned away by Apple. We halted development to make sure that the app has legs before investing in full development. We don’t want to invest another $10,000 just to get rejected at the end.”

Read more about Apple’s crackdown on marijuana-related apps

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