Around 2 am on December 16, 2016, James Bowman awoke from a half-sleep to find seven dark silhouettes crowding his bedroom. Before he could make out much about the men behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle masks who closed in around him, Bowman was hooded and pistol whipped. Zip-tied to a chair and beaten. Burned with a blowtorch and mutilated with an electric drill.
Bowman was a cannabis farmer in Southern Oregon. His assailants were looking for money, and as one of Oregon's most outspoken medical cannabis farmers, Bowman was an easy target.
Because of the federal prohibition of cannabis, most traditional banks won't touch businesses that get their hands sticky—and so the cannabis industry works in cash. It's no secret, and it's left weed businesses of all shapes and sizes vulnerable to violent criminals who want a quick cash injection.
In lieu of traditional banking options, it seems that if we could only remove cash from the cannabis equation, things would be much safer for farmers, processors and retailers.
Enter cryptocurrencies such as Potcoin, Hempcoin and Cannabiscoin—new designer, digital monies created to solve the cannabis industry's big cash problem.
Like the widely buzzed-over Bitcoin, these cryptocurrencies use public and private keys to conduct secure transactions over the internet, each of which is recorded across a decentralized digital ledger known as a blockchain—a database shared and stored by all coin holders that accounts for each and every transaction made using a given currency.
If the industry were to adopt such a form of digital money, it would deincentivize violent crimes like the one suffered by Bowman.
But all cryptocurrencies aren't created equal, and these technological solutions have been slow to make an impact.
"Largely, the strategy underlying a lot of those [early cannabis] tokens was let's just put a pot leaf on a digital currency and hope the industry adopts it," says Michael Wagner, founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Tokes Platform, perhaps the most promising cannabis-specific cryptocurrency in a growing ecosystem of options.