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The Business of Marijuana: Lots of Smoke and Mirrors

Some form of marijuana usage may be legal in many states, but it's still a very hush-hush business.
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OK, so maybe it's not your idea of fun to pretend you're a derelict marijuana dealer, getting high with Lucy the Nurse, soliciting a lap dance from Jane the Stripper, or trying to duck Rastamon Bob, or escape the evil clutches of corrupt police officers.

But plenty of customers did love Weed Firm for exactly those reasons, and enough to make it the No. 1 free app game on iTunes before Apple yanked it from the store with no explanation, as CNET first reported.

Produced by Manitoba Games, Weed Firm has been referred to as the Grand Theft Auto of stoner and drug-dealer video games. (Yes, there are others.) Apple didn't respond to a request for comment, but Manitoba offered this assessment:

As you might have noticed, the game is no longer available on the Apple App Store. This was entirely Apple's decision, not ours…There are certainly a great number of weed based apps still available, as well as games promoting other so-called 'illegal activities' such as shooting people, crashing cars and throwing birds at buildings…We will endeavor to make it as censorship free as possible while assigning the highest maturity rating to the game. We do not want kids playing Weed Firm, but we firmly believe that adults should have a choice to do whatever the hell they want as long as they are not hurting anybody in the process.

It's hard enough to be in any kind of business these days, but so-called vice businesses have it particularly rough. Porn stars say they've been targeted by their banks and had their accounts closed due to unspecified risks. Anyone in the actual legal marijuana business can tell you it's next to impossible to find a bank to stash their legitimate loot. Although more than 20 states allow for limited-use marijuana sales, it's legal in two states.

Such obstacles shed light on the difficulties taboo businesses encounter as they perform the most basic of business tasks. The recent clampdown might also make one think about just how free you are to conduct your business--particularly in an era marked by questions over National Security Agency snooping and the alleged complicity among tech companies. 

As I reported in early April, Weedmaps, which connects legal pot dispensaries and ancillary businesses with patients who need medical marijuana, was solicited by an advertising agency associated with CBS to run an advertisement promoting legal marijuana usage. The ad was to have run on a Times Square, New York City, JumboTron owned by CBS this spring. Weedmaps, which has 65 employees and $30 million in annual revenue, spent weeks creating the spot and plunked down $50,000 for a 60-day rotation.

The spot failed to appear when it was scheduled to in early April. With little explanation, CBS lawyers decided to nix the advertisement and return the money because they deemed the content--which consisted of a puff of smoke and a smiley face--too controversial, Weedmaps says. CBS said last month it does not ultimately decide which advertisements run on its JumboTron.

"It’s insane, the obstacles we face in running a legit marijuana business," Justin Hartfield, founder and chief executive officer of Weedmaps, says. "Advertising is just the tip of the iceberg."

 

 

 

Last updated: May 23, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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