Hemp Grows in the Silicon Valley

The Firefly may look like some kind of fancy flash drive or high-class tech appliance, and in some ways it is. But in some ways its looks are a bit deceiving, at least in that it doesn’t look like the vaporizer that it is. Its makers, Sasha Robinson and Mark Williams, are software developers with experience working for Moto, Juniper Systems, Silicon Graphics, and Apple.

Obviously they’d both spent their fare share of time bopping around Silicon Valley, but the two didn’t meet until they showed up at the same party at Burning Man.

The Firefly is officially a vaporizer made for pipe tobacco, but will turn basically any organic material (wink wink) into easily inhaled vapor at the touch of a button. It uses a lithium-ion battery to power its convection heating element, which reaches up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit but never gets hot enough to burn to the touch.

Gizmodo said it was “hands down, the best portable vaporizer” and even threw out the term “portable perfection.” Business Insider said it was “the Tesla of toking up.”

tech cannabisHowever, Robinson and Williams have still had a few major obstacles to overcome in order to release their beloved gadget. Despite the fact that it’s obviously for marijuana, federal laws and marijuana’s status as a schedule 1 substance have made them have to make some branding compromises. Google, Facebook and Twitter have banned marijuana keyword advertising and the Firefly is banned from nationwide sale privilege unless it is branded without the addition of any kind of marijuana-type association.

“We call that touching the sun,” piped in Justin Hartfield, an investor with the cannabis-focused Ghost Group. “If your’e manufacturing a schedule 1 narcotic- growing it, infusing it with other products- you’re touching the sun.” The metaphor has an unspoken second phrase, of course, which is that you’re liable to get burned.

Hartfield isn’t recommending against entering the industry entirely, of course: “There’s hundreds of millions of dollars in software and ancillary services,” he assures. “Add in vaporizers and you’re talking many more.”

Techies have seen the pot industry as a sitting duck; many are chomping at the bit to disrupt and industry dominated by hippies and gangsters. The rise of medical marijuana in California as well as its soon-to-come recreational legalization (let’s all keep our fingers crossed) has brought to mind the old truism that dates back to the California gold rush:

Hand with a smart watch displaying a marijuana leaf

“It wasn’t the miners who got rich,” reminds Wired magazine reporter Mat Honan. “It was the people selling pick and shovels.”

Anyone with legitimate interest in how the industry will develop need look no further than Denver, CA, where marijuana has been legalized and the pot industry is booming. The state has even set up pot tracking systems solely to ensure that cannabis is kept out of the black market. Crime has dropped since the law went into effect January 1st and an extra $2 million a month flows into the state’s tax revenue. The only catch? Most banks won’t do business with the marijuana industry for fear that their clients’ assets might be seized by the federal government, so sales are cash only.

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