On Wednesday, the Google Play store quietly updated its terms of service to prohibit marijuana delivery apps, or in its parlance, apps that assist users in “arranging delivery or pickup of marijuana” and apps that facilitate the “sale of products containing THC.”
It’s unclear what motivated the policy update, though the blog Android Police speculated that it’s part of a larger trend of Google editing its Play Store to be more overtly family-friendly, with the product manager for Google Play publishing a blog post about “building a safer Google Play for kids” as recently as earlier this week. But as many reports indicated, the policy update does not bode well for popular weed delivery apps like Eaze and WeedMaps, which, while still currently available on the Google Play store, will likely have to remove their in-app ordering services in order to remain on the platform. “Google’s action makes it harder for legal adults to purchase legal cannabis, which is not good for anyone,” says David Mack, senior vice president of policy and public affairs at Eaze, tells Rolling Stone. “People will wonder why and who they’re trying to help here. Is it trying to protect their bottom line? Who can say. But we’re concerned by the general trend that adults are prevented from buying legal things via apps.”
In an email to Rolling Stone, a Google spokesperson clarified that the new marijuana policy did not apply to marijuana-related apps in general — just those that sold cannabis. “These apps simply need to move the shopping cart flow outside of the app itself to be compliant with this new policy,” the Google spokesperson said. “We’ve been in contact with many of the developers and are working with them to answer any technical questions and help them implement the changes without customer disruption.” The Google spokesperson said that developers behind apps like Eaze have 30 days to comply with the new terms of service, and that Google Play will continue to host a wide range of marijuana-themed apps on the platform.
Google’s new policy update comes at an interesting time: although legalization of cannabis is increasingly gaining mainstream acceptance (66% of the US population currently agrees that cannabis should be legalized nationwide, according to one poll), there’s been increasing pressure on the tech behemoth to scrub non-advertiser-friendly content from its platforms. YouTube in particular has garnered much criticism for hosting, among other things, extremist and conspiracy theory-oriented content, as well as disturbing videos targeted at children.
It’s not clear whether Google’s new policy update is a direct response to such critiques. It is clear, however, that this policy change is part of a larger trend of tech companies not quite knowing how to reconcile the recent explosion of the cannabis market with the tenuous and widely variable legal status of the plant itself. Earlier this week, for instance, eBay stated that it would continue to ban the sale of CBD products on its platform. As much as Google and Apple consumers may have a demonstrated interest in cannabis-related content, Big Tech isn’t necessarily in the position to meet that demand right now — though as more and more states mull legalization, that’s likely to change in years to come.