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NFTs: Passing Fad or the Future of Cannabis?

By Sensi Contributor
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Gregory Frye was founding editor of Green Flower Media and now works as executive editor for The Bluntness (https://thebluntness.com).

So, have you bought your first non-fungible token yet? Awareness of the new technology, better known as NFTs, is steadily rising and more people are learning how to tap into the benefits.

But a lot of folks are still scratching their heads, uncertain about all the fuss and downright dubious toward the idea of digital art NFTs selling for millions of dollars.

What’s the point of NFTs? Are they a silly trend, a scam, or is there intrinsic value in this emerging technology? More important, what does all this mean for cannabis lovers and the cannabis industry as a whole?

NFTs Explained

Let’s keep this simple. NFTs are essentially an evolution of cryptocurrency. They exist on a blockchain, which means any transactions are securely recorded and largely tamper-proof. You buy an NFT, it’s yours and nobody can ever dispute that.

These cryptographic tokens can represent the ownership of both digital and real-world assets. NFTs could be art, music, event tickets, and even real estate.

When you hear the term “Web3” this is a big part of what people are talking about – increased privacy, data security, and token-based economies.

Depending on the project, NFTs can also come with ongoing membership perks and community benefits. This is primarily where people find potential risks, as when NFT project organizers do not follow up on their promises.

The technology itself is mostly secure with lots of potential, but mainstream adoption of NFTs is slow because of the learning curve and a clunky set-up process, which requires opening a crypto wallet, buying cryptocurrency, and vetting new NFTs before you buy.

Every step in this process is intimidating to the average person, for now. Even with credit-card access entering the picture, the NFT world has plenty of work to do. Just like the early days of cannabis, a lot of storytelling and education is needed to ease peoples’ minds toward the possibilities around this unfamiliar concept.

NFTs + Cannabis = Community

Imagine buying a cannabis NFT where you get ongoing discounts, early access to new products, and invitations to exclusive events and online groups. Like consumer brands in other industries, many cannabis brands are already offering such NFTs.

If done right, this model could help solve the engagement and customer loyalty challenges in cannabis, which involves inspiring people with an irresistible NFT offering, educating them on how NFTs work, and then following up on the offer.

Crypto Cannabis Club (CCC), which launched its first NFT in July 2021, has grown into one of the most ambitious NFT projects in cannabis. In addition to their own weed brand in California, they also have dozens of chapters across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

“Some people approach NFTs because they like the art and view it as an investment; other people approach NFTs out of a sense of community,” says Ryan Hunter, CEO of Crypto Cannabis Club.

“Members of our community are getting together on their own organically to socialize and sesh and to network,” Hunter says, mentioning parties in Florida and at the Indianapolis 500, as well as CCC’s own organized events for NFT holders, such as spring break in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, an event at Art Basel in Miami, and a big meetup at MJBizCon last fall.

Additionally, CCC partners with about 30 accessory brands, which gives their members discounts on everything from dab rigs to rolling papers.

On the virtual side, CCC has developed a range of virtual offerings with their followings on Discord and Twitter, where they host cannabis and psychedelics-education conversations every week on Twitter Spaces.

“Those environments create a natural platform for online communities, and our real-world experiences are an extension of that,” Hunter says.

“We love seeing our community members in the real world. We have folks that go to all of these events and travel to see one another. There’s a kindred spirit vibe mixed in with the art and culture, just like we’ve seen for decades with stoners wanting to hang out and sesh. NFTs are a natural extension of that.”

NFTs are also a way for brands and marketers to draw new members into the cannabis world and educate, notes Polly Lieberman, cofounder of thric3, a Web3 and cannabis 2.0 community. “The number one challenge that all cannabis companies have is access to customers. Web3 presents a unique marketing opportunity because there are fewer restrictions than traditional media.”

This is how cannabis brands can engage the massive demographic of canna-curious people, consumers who are interested in incorporating cannabis into their lives but don’t know where to start and need help.

To engage this untapped demographic, thric3 is preparing to unveil a new NFT collection where the art showcases everyday people as consumers, rather than as the stereotypical stoners featured on other cannabis NFTs.

“We built a collection to represent everyone,” Lieberman explains. “Our hope is that people look at our collection and see someone who looks like them and thinks, ok that’s me, this is cool, I can be open about my use. This will go a long way in helping to reduce the stigma.”

Like the Early Days of Cannabis

When projects like CCC host regular shows about their projects on Twitter Spaces, it’s not about promotion. “It’s more about authentic, organic building of community. That to me feels like early cannabis,” says Amanda Reiman, Founder of Personal Plants.

Reiman has been around long enough to remember the early days of cannabis cooperatives where, much like NFTs, people could buy into a community for shared benefits. That’s how she feels about much of the Web3 space. “Those of us from early cannabis have almost an advantage coming into this because we understand the culture behind how this is being built,” she says.

NFTs became a solution for Reiman’s project Personal Plants, a psychedelic-plant nursery that sells specimens like huachuma cacti and salvia cuttings. Even though the plants she sells are legal in most states, she got tired of dealing with payment-processor rejections and shadow bans on Instagram.

Reiman needed to find a subversive way to keep her business alive, and now, thanks to NFTs, she’s co-founding a new project called Sacred Garden, where people can enter a psychedelic marketplace, safely and securely.

“In our vision, we have a network of people who grow psychedelic plants at home for hobbies, and your NFT enables you to access these farmers,” she explains.

“If you have one of our NFTs you go to our website, you connect your wallet, it sees the NFT is in there, and now you can enter the marketplace. It’s a way for us to give a benefit to our NFT holders and to vet who comes into the marketplace, which is for the safety and security of our farmers. And it’s a way to give opportunities to people to be part of the community, anonymously if they desire, and you just have to buy membership once – it’s not that different from the old cannabis collectives.”

Hype Vs Opportunity

Reiman sees two different types of NFT projects popping up in cannabis. One type of project is like what Crypto Cannabis Club is doing – authentic experiences, community, and excellent benefits that make the NFT a worthy asset.

“This is the future for cannabis companies, and it’s a great way to reach our communities because even SMS texting is shutting us down,” she says. When you’re promoting an NFT instead of a psychoactive plant, it’s a different story.

“The other type of project we’re seeing in the cannabis space, which builds on what I call the phase one of NFTs, is all flash and no substance. People are trying to capitalize on the sexiness of weed, but they don’t really know a lot about it. They think they can create NFTs that appeal to stoners, but when you look underneath the hood, there isn’t anything there.”

The Importance of Education

To help fill those NFT knowledge gaps Reiman has teamed up with Lisa Snyder, co-founder of Tokeativity, for a virtual education series hosted by Women Employed in Cannabis.

“Web3 and NFTs are like the early days of the internet, where people are like, ‘inter-what?’ Amanda and I are trying to educate people, especially women and BIPOC folks, so they get to know it, and it’s not as scary,” Snyder says, who has been building websites since 1995 and was early to embrace NFTs, starting her own collection out of curiosity.

Snyder, who’s also a graphic artist, recently worked on an art project which involved 9,999 NFTs. Each NFT in the set has unique variations based on a theme, some rarer and more valuable than others.

“This is still the early days of NFTs, and like with early internet, there’s going to be a lot of experimenting. The first experiment was to make art and see if people would buy, and they did,” she says.

The Future of NFTs

Both Snyder and Reiman believe NFTs will continue to rise in popularity over the next few years, as an integral part of safer digital transactions, community building, asset ownership, and new investment opportunities.

However, the space still requires a degree of caution on all sides. For instance, NFTs for cannabis breeding or community-owned cannabis companies open up a whole new can of worms when you consider the “fuzziness around federal and state cannabis laws combined with the fuzzy laws around NFTs and securities. Is it a company and are people buying shares and what does that mean?” Reiman asks.

Reiman explains how the Sacred Garden project required a ton of background work on legal issues, understanding what was allowed, and untangling hairy questions around crypto-based revenue versus traditional revenue. The space is still really new, and people have to be careful, she says, but that doesn’t mean NFTs aren’t worthwhile.

“If the cannabis industry taps into this now and starts educating themselves about it, they’ll have an amazing opportunity to connect with Generation X and Z and Y. That’s all the people who are embracing this technology,” Snyder says. “They’ll be looking at cannabis companies and asking about Web3 projects. If you’re like, ‘Web3? What’s that?’ you’re going to be out of touch.”