Pubdate: Wed, 18 Nov 2015
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Nicky Woolf


Stoned Conversation Leads to Business With 600,000 Users and Serious Investors

The idea for a social network specifically aimed at cannabis users 
came to Isaac Dietrich, appropriately enough, while he was smoking a 
joint with his best friend. "We thought of all our friends who 
smoked," said Dietrich, who has been smoking cannabis "on a daily 
basis" since he was 15.

"Almost no one posted about it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, 
because that's where their families, bosses and co-workers are 
connected to them," he said. "I wouldn't want my grandmother to see a 
picture of me taking a bong rip every time she logs into Facebook."

Massroots, the marijuana-oriented social network that emerged from 
this stoned conversation, now boasts 625,000 users and listings for 
more than 1,000 cannabis businesses. The company is expecting to hit 
1 million users around the end of the year.

Recreational marijuana use is legal in Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, 
Washington and the capital, Washington DC.

Dietrich's background is in political campaigns: in 2011, after high 
school, instead of going to college, he became field director for 
Virginia Republican congressional candidate Scott Rigell. His 
intention was to go to college but instead, he maxed out $17,000 
(UKP10,000) in credit cards to start Massroots.

His gamble paid off. Massroots was the first cannabis-related company 
to go public and shares in the company are traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

It also has a dual function: connecting users with dispensaries and 
edibles in states such as Washington, Oregon or Colorado where the 
drug has been legalised, while connecting activists with campaigning 
resources in states which still have prohibition.

"One of the core things about why we love doing what we do is because 
we have a real opportunity to push legalisation forward," Dietrich said.

"We have a social network of a half-million cannabis consumers, all 
of whom are pro-marijuana [and] want to do everything possible to 
push the movement forward. And we're in a unique position just by 
developing new tools, new features for our app and pushing it out to 
a half-million people, hopefully we can push the conversation."

He said that in the 2016 presidential race, the candidate for the 
legalisation of marijuana was Kentucky Republican senator Rand Paul. 
The other Republicans, he said, are "worse than the Democrats", he is 
also worried by Hillary Clinton's history as a "crusader [in the] war 
on drugs".

It hasn't always been a steady ride. In January, Apple dropped 
Massroots from the app store. Two weeks later, after an outcry from 
users, the app was reinstated. There is another problem on the 
horizon. Alyson Martin, the founder of marijuana-oriented news 
service CannabisWire and the author of A New Leaf: The End of 
Cannabis Prohibition, said that Massroots has a head start over its 
competition. "They have the funding, they have name recognition. 
While other cannabis networking apps are popping up, they're the most 
well known and best funded." But she also said the app was a 
potential test case for when cannabis prohibition ends nationwide, 
"because these users are going to go to more general social networks. 
You don't have social networks for every interest  there's not a 
dog-lovers social network; they just go to Facebook or Twitter." 
Dietrich is not worried.

"When we started Massroots it was anonymous, and you didn't have to 
prove your identity, and a lot of people utilised that at first," he 
said. "Now people are more willing to post pics of them smoking and 
not care who sees it."

More than that, he said, hedge funds and institutional investors are 
willing to jump into the cannabis arena. "A year ago, they wouldn't 
have considered it, and that's because there's so much money about to 
flow into this sector. "That's really going to move things."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom