Is there anything worse than buying cannabis you can’t smoke? Over the years, bags of oregano or sacks of crumbly weed choked by stems and seeds have foiled countless consumption plans. But never before has the prospect of knowingly paying for cannabis that only exists as a string of random characters in a blockchain been presented as an appealing option.
Regardless, that’s precisely what Jessie Grundy, owner and chief executive of the Oakland cannabis brand Peakz, is selling. And unlike that junior high bully-turned high school pot dealer, who was always trying to pull one over you back in the day, Peakz is being fully transparent about his intentions.
Advertised as “the world’s first digital bag of weed,” Grundy’s “Lava Coin” is a so-called “non-fungible token” and can be purchased by anyone, anywhere in the world. That’s a nifty trick for circumventing local, state, or international law, but it comes at an indisputably hefty price.
Listed on the crypto collectibles marketplace site OpenSea on March 1, it’s unclear if Grundy’s initial offering sold, but, as of Monday, April 19, a listing for Lava Coin was available with a current top bid of $4,259.06. Grundy must see a lot of potential value in this venture, as the listing also notes this high bid does not meet the auction’s minimum reserve price.
Speaking with Chris Roberts of Forbes, Grundy elaborated on what he sees as the value in purchasing a cannabis NFT beyond an added promise that should the buyer live in Oregon or California, their winning bid will include some actual cannabis as well.
“The future is coming and blockchain will continue to be intertwined into society,” Grundy told Roberts. “This digital cannabis strain will live on the ledger forever, and it having a physical counterpart makes it one of a kind.”
Does that make buying an NFT tantamount to owning digital bragging rights?
When it comes to concepts like NBA Top Shot — a popular new platform to buy, sell and collect officially licensed NBA video highlights — it’s difficult to quantify the value of “owning” a clip that anyone can watch for free on YouTube. Regardless, the Wall Street Journal reported that early Top Shot collector Michael Levy was able to turn $175,000 into a collection now valued at $20 million.
While very few are likely to ever see a fiscal windfall like the one Levy is enjoying, it is possible that another appeal of NFTs — at least for those in far less favorable situations — is as a lotto ticket of sorts.
Whatever the motivation may be, Reuters reported in March that OpenSea (home to Grundy’s Lava Coin) had seen monthly sales increase from $1.5 million a year ago to $86.3 million this February. With those kinds of numbers, coupled with a continued inability to market over social media, print, and television, the legal cannabis industry’s interest was all but inevitable. And indeed, Grundy isn’t the only one experimenting with blockchain bud bucks.
On April 15, Eaze announced the sale of its own “one-of-a-kind digital artwork” in the form of a clip featuring the brand’s signature moonman image.
Also incorporating former NBA player Matt Barnes and a “special message” themed around the 50th anniversary of “4/20,” the first NFT from California’s largest cannabis marketplace was also listed on OpenSea with a starting bid of the equivalent of $420 and an end date of April 20 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.
Of note is Eaze’s stated intention to donate all proceeds from the sale to National Expungement Week, which a press release describes as “a POC-powered organization that provides access to relief, equity, and opportunity in communities affected by the War on Drugs.” That’s a noble use of resources, but when it comes to NFTs, there’s another, extremely important element to consider: the environment.
To say nothing of issues of authenticity, artist equity, or the barriers to entry that NFTs present, they are, rather indisputably, simply terrible for the planet.
On April 13, the New York Times published “NFTs Are Shaking Up the Art World. They May Be Warming the Planet, Too,” in which Hiroko Tabuchi attempts to quantify just how much electricity is being used to power the blockchain technology at the heart of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin as well as the minting of NFTs.
“According to an estimate backed up by independent researchers,” Tabuchi reported, “the creation of an average NFT has a stunning environmental footprint of over 200 kilograms of planet-warming carbon, equivalent to driving 500 miles in a typical American gasoline-powered car.”
As a result, the appeal of NFTs as a way to connect artists and buyers — or in Eaze’s case, as a way to capitalize on name recognition in the spirit of a good cause — may be vastly outweighed by the environmental damage their creation necessitates.
At some point, it just seems like too much work for weed you don’t even get to smoke.
Zack Ruskin covers cannabis for SF Weekly. Twitter @zackruskin