Why I Think Big Tech's Mixed Messaging on Cannabis Isn't Going to Slow Down Legal Marijuana Brands
Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
In July 2021, the cannabis and tech industries were abuzz with the groundbreaking news that Apple would allow cannabis-selling apps into its App Store, with certain criteria. The new policy was released as part of Apple’s updates to its App Store Review Guidelines and marked the very first time that a Big Tech company instituted explicit changes that would allow and recognize the legal cannabis market on its platform.
The news was heralded as a tidal shift because at its worst, Big Tech — from the OS/app store providers, like Apple and Google, to all the major social media platforms — has served as a quasi-partner in governmental prohibition by restricting access to much cannabis-related activity and content. It’s a stark juxtaposition that highlights the conflicts within the Big Tech behemoths on their cannabis messaging.
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However, it is one that, even in the context of their tacit support of cannabis prohibition, is nonetheless wielding influence toward legalization.
For example, a colleague of mine recently attempted to share a link on Facebook from their local television station reporting on “Joints for Jabs,” a cooperative effort by local health groups and the cannabis community created around the need to proactively encourage Covid-19 vaccinations. But Facebook — which has an entire dedicated “COVID-19 Information Center” on its own platform — removed the post as a violation of its Community Standards.
However, if you search for “cannabis” on the platform, you’ll find thousands of Facebook-sanctioned results, from music and news videos to Groups and Pages hosted by media entities, advocacy groups, even brands and dispensaries.
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Twitter, on the other hand, seems to be one of the most sanguine social media platforms on the topic of cannabis. I see this as a good thing, as cannabis Twitter is rife with influencers pleading for help and guidance on how to restore their Instagram or Facebook pages after being suspended for cannabis content.
That’s the bad news, but there is better news on the horizon, and Apple’s move is a drop, albeit a substantial one, in the bucket.
So far, Google Play has maintained its prohibition on cannabis-buying and -delivery apps on its Android devices. But don’t underestimate the power of good old American capitalism. I am confident that regardless of the state of federal legalization, Google will likely soon follow suit with Apple and change its guidelines accordingly. More access to cannabis-related apps (e.g., buying/delivery apps) could create a higher demand for ever more advanced e-commerce technology and support of the financial sector, which holds huge sway in any potential legislation.
An even bigger sign is the uproar over the disqualification for the Tokyo Olympics of American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson just days after she became the fastest woman in America. The outraged public response — exponentially amplified over a long holiday weekend through social media — really highlighted the overall public acceptance of cannabis. In an unprecedented move, this uproar has led the U.S. government to call on the IOC to discuss the reassessment of cannabis’s prohibition. It’s an ironic stance to take while federal prohibition remains, but I, and many industry experts, see it as a promising development.
Technology has already proven itself to be an invaluable asset to the growth of the legal cannabis industry from “seed to sale” in areas ranging from automation, cultivation, extraction, analysis, compliance, distribution and tracking. But without wide-ranging and native capabilities possible with apps, the industry and the technology that drives it is destined to stay in limbo. Apple’s announcement, which didn’t get much attention in the mainstream, is going to continue making big waves for some time to come.
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