On a Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles, a group of high strangers gathered in a smoky, colorful venue less than a mile from Crypto.com Arena. The vibe was relaxed but excited, and the partygoers, many of whom were meeting each other for the very first time, greeted each other like old friends, calling each other by their Discord names. The mood was celebratory: The Crypto Cannabis Club, an NFT community for stoners, was gathering to celebrate the launch of its metaverse dispensary.
The warmth and belonging of the weed-filled party was a contrast to the metaverse store, which was underwhelming by comparison. But the dispensary launch and the NFTs required to buy into the group are just an excuse: As with most Web3 projects, it’s really about the community. Even though crypto is crashing, taking NFTs with it, the Crypto Cannabis Club is unfazed, CEO Ryan Hunter told Protocol.
‘We all grow together’
The community is what brought CCC members to downtown LA, ostensibly for the 4/20 launch of the metaverse dispensary. The club’s 6,000-odd members had to acquire a “toker,” an NFT of a brightly colored, stoned-looking character, to get into the group and take advantage of its perks, which include in-person events. The floor price for a toker sits at around 0.15 ETH, or roughly $300 (right now — who knows what the future brings?).
April and Manny Hernandez love the club so much that they flew from New York to LA to attend. Manny owns nine tokers, and April owns just one. The couple traveled to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in March for another CCC meetup.
“Being ex-military, the camaraderie is something that I look for,” Manny told me. “It’s awesome to have this type of access to these types of events. We all grow together.”
As the couple turned to walk away, I saw Manny’s flashy attire: a lab coat with the words “Crypto Cannabis Club” spelled in rhinestones on the back, which he said he designed and bedazzled himself.
As I weaved my way through the crowd, I spotted Hunter, wearing an embroidered shirt with pot leaves on either shoulder, smiling ear to ear as he greeted excited guests. He pointed me toward the weed.
The front room was shrouded in colorful light, with neon signs of blue, purple and green scattered throughout the walls and ceiling. After guests picked up their party favors, they were greeted with a dab bar, a table lined with devices to smoke different cannabis concentrates, with two employees from cannabis tech brand Dr. Dabber helping people light up. The next table over, three marijuana growers from High Water Farm were giving away baggies of the plant itself. Guests excitedly lined the tables, chatting and laughing and hugging in between inhales. It smelled exactly how you’d expect.
I walked through a brightly lit foyer to a second room: a warehouse with sky-high ceilings bathed in a dim green light and filled with smoke. A bar with two bartenders was set up in the corner, serving both alcoholic and cannabis-infused cocktails. Two guests took turns taking videos of one another in the middle of the venue, blowing clouds of smoke from a comically large joint. Out back was a truck providing free tacos and burritos — by the end of the night, there was nothing left.
From boom to crash
The high of the party just weeks ago is a far cry from the vibe today, though Hunter said Crypto Cannabis Club remains “an oasis in the middle of this crazy desert that we're going through.” The price of the group’s NFTs dipped slightly last week, with the floor reaching around 0.1 ETH, but has since bounced back by 50%. Other NFT communities have become “ghost towns,” Hunter said, but through their shared Discord and social media channels, the club’s members continue to support each other.
The group mostly connects through the Discord server, which has thousands of members, but members occasionally get to meet in person at parties like the one I attended. The energy of the Discord channel has been reassuring in the midst of the crypto crash, with members encouraging each other to “hold tight.” The Crypto Cannabis Club is a “weird one where passion for the project fuels its floor [price],” one said. Some are even using the strong sense of community amid the chaos as a recruiting opportunity, Hunter said, urging more people to buy in as the floor price has declined in recent weeks.
And with the price tag of its NFTs recovering, some even trading at three to four times the floor price, Hunter said, the Crypto Cannabis Club seems to be on the upswing for now.
“I don't want to jinx anything, but I think there's a lot of encouraging signs there from where I'm sitting,” Hunter said. “Our hope is that, as things settle a bit, people will really understand the value of what we're offering and see it as a sustainable collection.”
NFTs for weed
The founders of the Crypto Cannabis Club, Kevin and Jim Fitzpatrick, worked in the cannabis industry for nearly a decade before getting into the crypto space in 2020. The duo noticed that communities were starting to form around NFT collections and found that there wasn’t a solid community for cannabis consumers. So they launched the club last July, with Hunter taking the helm as CEO in January after spending a few months as an adviser.
The Crypto Cannabis Club community came together quickly: The entire NFToker collection was minted and then sold out just seven days after launch, with the lowest-priced tokers selling for 0.8 ETH, or roughly $200 to $250 at the time. The 10,000 NFTs in the Crypto Cannabis Club’s NFT collection are owned by around 4,500 digital wallets, said Hunter. You don’t have to own an NFT to be part of the fun, though membership does have some perks. The group’s Discord has 23,000 subscribers and it has 28 chapters globally. Some of the group’s high profile members include rappers Ja Rule and Lil Baby, Cookies CEO Berner and actors Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
Membership isn’t cheap: The club’s NFTs start at a couple hundred dollars on the low end. The rare ones, Hunter said, can cost thousands more.
“They all have different characteristics. Some of those characteristics are more unique than others. So the characters that have the greatest number of the most unique traits tend to be the most valuable from a collector’s perspective,” he said.
But owning one does come with quite a few benefits. NFT holders get access to all Crypto Cannabis Club events, both virtual and in person. The club also has partnerships with two dozen cannabis brands and accessory manufacturers, so members get discounts on weed and accessories.
Weed in the metaverse
While crypto is crashing, tech companies are still all-in on metaverse investments. The Crypto Cannabis Club’s metaverse dispensary in the Cryptovoxels virtual world opened, appropriately, on 4/20. The VR dispensary, which can also be accessed via web browser, is essentially an online weed shop where members can purchase marijuana and smoking accessories to be shipped directly to them.
“It’s really a gathering place for our community,” Hunter said.
When I first clicked into the dispensary, a gray, faceless avatar with a placard above its head reading “anonymous” popped into an empty room. That weird little avatar was me. I peered around and noticed a brick wall emblazoned with the word “vibes,” a wooden countertop with Crypto Cannabis Club labels on it and a teeny tiny virtual cash register. Once I figured out how to turn my avatar around, I was greeted by a massive purple and green sign: “Welcome to the Crypto Cannabis Club.” One of the group’s signature toker characters popped up, and a glass case filled with virtual marijuana plants tempted me to wander over.
The metaverse dispensary displayed the Crypto Cannabis Club's brand on one wall, each colorful character representing both a strain of marijuana and a complimentary NFT that the buyer gets with their purchase. Screenshot: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol
The “store” part of the metaverse dispensary is a colorful room dotted with art pieces displaying popular online weed shop names. You click through the logos for brands you want to shop at, which bring you to their websites outside of the dispensary. My avatar wandered up to the second story, the “toker arena,” where a dozen or so NFTs in picture frames lined the walls and virtual tables, chairs and couches are scattered throughout the room. I couldn’t figure out how to sit down — my avatar just walked right through.
Though the virtual space wasn’t as exciting as the real-world party when I visited, it’s not always so empty, according to Hunter. The club held an event on the day of the launch that spanned hours so members could drop in at 4:20 local time. Dozens of people were chatting and exploring the space at any given point, Hunter said, with music and videos playing in the virtual auditorium.
“What we're trying to maintain is that welcoming sense of community,” said Hunter. “If you're a cannabis consumer, it's what you would expect from the real world. We're trying to develop that same vibe in a virtual way as well.”
While entertaining to click through, the dispensary felt like a simple video game rather than a weed shop from the future. The CCC’s dispensary was just one of several spaces I could explore with my avatar. In an attempt to see what the rest of the world was like, I took a wrong turn and fell into the deep virtual waters of a place called “Shell Beach.” If the metaverse is the future, it needs a bit of work — or at least some guardrails between my avatar and the sea.
The Crypto Cannabis Club's space sits on the virtual waterfront of Shell Beach (which is surprisingly easy to fall into).Screenshot: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol
A different kind of crypto club
But no one at the party seemed to be there for the metaverse dispensary. The unifying thread was the community: getting to hang out with other weed-loving crypto owners. Matt Kaestner, a real estate broker in Orange County, compared the Crypto Cannabis Club to internet communities of the early 2000s, when groups of like-minded people congregated online to hang out and be weird together.
“This is no different than that, 15 years later,” he said. “You’re starting to see these communities pop up that provide different benefits and bond members, like cannabis.”
Kaestner said he’s always been a “part of the culture” of cannabis, and got into crypto as it started to boom over the last few years. When he first discovered the Crypto Cannabis Club last summer, he said it felt like a “perfect fit.” At that point, he was new to the world of NFTs. Now, he owns 45 of the club’s NFTs, ranging in value from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
“As the club started, I saw more and more of the community come together to share this common interest,” he said. “Once you meet each other in real life at an event like this, it really seals the friendships and relationships.”
Health care worker Sergio Collado’s passions for cannabis and crypto made the decision to join the club a “no-brainer.” Collado owns eight tokers, and though he’s open to selling a few, he called two of them his “forever tokers.” One is a character with green skin and floppy brown hair wearing a shirt covered in pineapples with a joint hanging from its mouth. Collado had the character printed on his shirt. Collado said the other resembles him the most, wearing a similar chain to his and sporting the same haircut.
Holding on to the high
The Crypto Cannabis Club has been around for less than a year, but the group has been busy. In that time, the company has held five events and meetups, including weed business convention MJBizCon, Art Basel and a multiday trip to Mexico for members.
And it’s not slowing down anytime soon, Hunter said. The club is working on hosting more events, collaborating with more cannabis brands and bringing its proprietary cannabis brand to more states (it’s currently only available in California). It’s also working on opening a second metaverse space and launching its next NFT collection. Those diversified revenue streams could help the group weather the crypto winter. But the biggest goal, Hunter said, is to grow the community, which may be a tough sell given the current crypto climate.
The 4/20 party was a snapshot in time, just weeks before billions of dollars in crypto value seemingly vanished overnight. But as I walked out, a performer named DJ Positivity began their set. People I’d just met waved goodbye to me like I’d known them for years. I had a bit of a secondhand buzz, and on the car ride home, Manny Hernandez’s words stuck in my head: “We all grow together.” Even if NFTs lose their value, maybe the cannabis club members can hold on to the high.