Cannabis and crypto
On 6 March, several publications including Wired, and websites Itechnews.co and CannabisStockPicks.com reported that the organizers of a New York conference called Crypto Sanctum had allegedly spiked the food served to conference attendees with cannabis. The menu card had allegedly promised many items that were “infused”, some, according to Wired, explicitly stating that they were infused with cannabis but many without specifying the infusion.
Unsurprisingly, many of the attendees, who had paid $500 each for conference tickets, left the conference unable to function. According to the publications, several of the event’s 200 attendees spoke about their experiences on Telegram, the preferred messaging service for denizens of the crypto-world. One attendee said he thought he had food poisoning. Another claimed to have experienced panic attacks. Others said that they were barely able to speak or even stand up after attending the conference. One passed out at the venue.
The event was organized by a group called “The Decentralists” and a crypto-project based in Poland called IOVO, or the “Internet of Value Omniledger”, according to its website Iovo.io. “The Decentralists” have never had online presence, and all promotional material for the event has now been taken offline. In addition, Facebook has taken down the links to a 20-minute video of attendees at the event.
Krzysztof Gagacki, chief executive of IOVO, issued a statement calling the incident “deeply disturbing and unacceptable”, and said IOVO was among the “victims of this unprecedented situation”. He also said that his organization “will do everything in our power to make the guilty party accountable”.
Regardless of who is to blame for this unfortunate turn of events, the subsequent cover-ups and the claims of non-culpability, this sort of negative publicity will not do any good for the already beleaguered world of cryptocurrencies. It has long been suspected that cryptocurrencies are actually a front for illegal activities such as money laundering and the drug trade. Serving cannabis at an event will only serve to further taint their reputation. In addition, the number of “Initial Coin Offerings”, many of which are flat-out fraudulent, has caused regulators to either ban them outright, or to scrutinize them very closely. Facebook has announced that it has completely banned cryptocurrency advertisements from its platform.
But the real travesty is that it is the normal world and not the crypto-crazies that will now probably avoid blockchain, the underlying technology beneath cryptocurrencies, which is a technology that is nothing short of a revolutionary way to transact. Blockchain is simply a database that is public (since no one owns it), distributed (since there is no centralized computer), is continuously updated, and is secured by cryptography. Thanks to cryptography, everyone involved in the chain of a transaction knows the exact size of the block and also where it has been. It is an elegant way to secure any transaction, monetary or otherwise, without having to rely on an intermediary, much like the promissory note or hundi systems of old in India.
It would be a pity if blockchain technology itself gets short shrift because of the negative associations that cryptocurrencies carry today. In my opinion, blockchain is possibly the greatest technological invention on the internet since the World Wide Web; it is a super secure, and instantly verifiable way for contracting parties to complete transactions between themselves for almost anything—from making sure a food supply chain is sacrosanct to lubricating the wheels of export and import trade finance.
Such is the power of blockchain that it was even used recently to manage an election in Sierra Leone. The technology was used with one small change, where the verification of the votes was left to a small set of authorities rather than the verifying “miners” coming from the public at large, but it was still instantly available for election agencies, foreign observers and even the voting public to view.
The caper of serving cannabis for hors d’oeuvres cannot be allowed to slow the adoption of blockchain technology into the mainstream. As I have said in this column before, I think that Indian information technology service providers would be well served by building blockchain platforms of their own.
Siddharth Pai is a world-renowned technology consultant who has personally led over $20 billion in complex first-of-a-kind outsourcing transactions.