Google vs Apple, which allows cannabis apps? Sourced from Mashable.
The relationship between tech giants like Google and Apple and the cannabis industry is strained. However, as more states legalize cannabis and the market for delivery services and sales becomes increasingly profitable, it is arguably more appealing than ever for Google and Apple to take advantage of the economic opportunity that cannabis presents.
Thus, it is unsurprising that on June 7th of this year, Apple lifted its previous restriction that prohibited cannabis sales and delivery service apps from appearing in its store.
This drastic shift has left many wondering if Google will soon follow in the path of its competitor. But for now the company stands firm in its decision to forbid apps that “facilitate the sale of marijuana or marijuana products,” according to their policy center.
The History of Apple’s Ban on Cannabis
Prior to this June, Apple’s guidelines regarding cannabis were almost identical to Google’s. According to Marijuana Moment, their previous policy states:
“apps that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store […] Facilitating the sale of controlled substances (except for licensed pharmacies), marijuana, or tobacco is not allowed.”
In other words, Apple did not permit any apps that aided in the sale/delivery of cannabis on the app store.
It is important to note that this did not prevent cannabis apps unrelated to direct consumption from being on both app-downloading platforms. As of 2015, using the search terms of “cannabis” and “marijuana,” the JMIR mHealth uHealth journal reported that the “total apps available for each search term were 124 for cannabis and 218 for marijuana in the Apple App Store, and 250 each for cannabis and marijuana on Google Play.”
This number has likely increased for both companies in the past six years. Consequently, that revealed that even though Apple banned sales and delivery, cannabis and cannabis culture remained prevalent in both tech stores.
So what inspired Apple to make this change in their guidelines? There’s a lot of potential reasons.
Chris Vaughn, the CEO of the California delivery service Emjay, stated that “he believes Apple’s decision was informed by the continuing legalization movement in states like New York,” reports Marijuana Moment.
Vaughn also mentioned Amazon’s recent announcement that it will no longer be drug testing workers for cannabis as a motivating factor.
This news might seem unrelated to the discussion at hand. However, as one of America’s largest and most successful companies, Amazon’s decision to “stop testing for cannabis metabolites as part of its drug screening program” marks the ongoing shift in public and professional opinion regarding cannabis, reports CNN.
Additionally, the company’s decision to back “cannabis reform efforts on the federal level” could prove “immensely influential” for other organizations, Andy Challenger, a senior vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas told CNN.
Simply put, if one of the world’s largest employers could take a pro-cannabis stance, nothing prevented Apple from doing the same by finally allowing cannabis sales/delivery apps.
Money Makes the World go Round
One cannot ignore the economic motivations behind Apple’s decision to allow cannabis sales and delivery service apps on their store.
“Revenue projections for the recreational and medical marijuana markets keep rising,” Financial News Media reports. Current trends predict the “delivery sub-market will be the highest, fastest growing stream in the market.”
In 2016, 44% of medical cannabis consumers in the U.S. regularly used a delivery service, according to the Statista Research Department.
“Legalization [has only] ramped up since then,” Financial News Media continues. “It’s likely the numbers have […] continued to increase, making the market ripe for cannabis delivery.”
Market research company, the BDSA, told Forbes that American cannabis delivery usage increased 25% in 2020.
For both Apple and Google, getting involved in the cannabis industry, particularly regarding digital sales and delivery, is a huge economic opportunity.
For example, both companies would not take their normal 30% cut from developers (physical products sales are exempt from commission, read more here) if the canna-app is free.
However, portions of profits of any in-app purchases or subscriptions made by the consumer go to the two tech companies. In fact, as of 2017 in-app purchases accounted for 48.2% of mobile app earnings globally, reports Invesp. Additionally, if the user must pay for the cannabis sales/delivery app, Apple and Google receive a share of this bounty.
It’s safe to say that this is millions in added revenue. Whether the app is free and generates profit from internal purchases or must be paid for; a portion of its funds are delivered to the company hosting its program. As developers and dispensaries continue to create more apps involving sales/delivery, this profit will increase exponentially.
How it’s Going now
Unlike Google, Apple has taken full advantage of these circumstances with their new updated policy. It now permits cannabis sales and delivery services to appear on its app store. Marijuana Moment reported on the June guideline change in full detail:
“[Applications] that encourage consumption of tobacco and vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store […] Facilitating the sale of controlled substances (except for licensed pharmacies and licensed or otherwise legal cannabis dispensaries), or tobacco is not allowed.”
[…] “Apps that provide services in highly-regulated fields (such as banking and financial services […] legal cannabis use, and air travel) or that require sensitive user information should be submitted by a legal entity that provides the services, and not by an individual developer. Apps that facilitate the legal sale of cannabis must be geo-restricted to the corresponding legal jurisdiction.”
Essentially, licensed or otherwise legal cannabis dispensaries can facilitate the sale of cannabis on the platform, provided that:
— Their sale of cannabis is based on the user’s geographical location to areas where cannabis is legal.
— The legal entity (dispensary, business, etc.) that provides cannabis, not an individual developer creating it, submitted the app.
While complex, the growth of cannabis delivery apps like Eaze demonstrates that companies can follow these regulations successfully.
Soon after Apple’s new policy update, Eaze announced that “consumers can now shop and pay for marijuana products on [their] iPhone app for the first time,” reported Marijuana Moment. Previously, Eaze rerouted patrons in California and Michigan from the Eaze app to their webpage to make their cannabis purchases. Now the company has streamlined its service, to the delight of consumers and the company itself.
What’s Stopping Google?
Although Google still allows dozens of apps involving cannabis to appear on Google Play; they have firmly drawn the line in terms of sales and delivery.
In 2019, they updated their policy center to state: “we don’t allow apps that facilitate the sale of marijuana or marijuana products, regardless of legality.”
They further cite some common violations. Those include: “allowing users to order marijuana through an in-app shopping cart feature,” or “assisting in arranging delivery or pick up of marijuana.”
However, according to The Verge, Google is not trying to drive cannabis-related services off their Play Store.
On the contrary, Google told The Verge that they are actively cooperating with developers to assure their compliance with these guidelines. The company is “working with them to answer any technical questions and help them implement the changes without customer disruption.”
According to a Google spokesperson, app developers should “move the shopping cart flow outside of the app” to comply. However, this prevents a direct streamline from ordering to purchasing, which Apple now offers with canna-apps like Eaze.
Although Google has not updated their guidelines since Apple made their alterations in June; many predict that the tech company will soon follow in the path of its major competitor.
Chris Vaughn, previously mentioned, said he thinks Google will “follow quickly” to update its own policies. For now, all Android users can do is wait.
Winner Takes all…for now
When it comes to “friendliness,” or at least convenience, it appears that Apple has taken the lead regarding cannabis. Both platforms have allowed for a significant number of cannabis-related apps to appear on their respective stores; but only Apple currently allows cannabis delivery and sales apps. Thus, for consumers, dispensaries, and developers alike, Apple appears to take the lead, despite their past unfriendliness to the industry. However, we encourage vigilance regarding Google’s policies. Soon enough the tech giant may decide to switch their perspective regarding this hot commodity. After all, if it’s a question of money, the legal cannabis market is the place to be.