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I Bought Weed in the Metaverse

It felt a lot like a strip mall.

An avatar in jeans, red heels, and sunglasses stands in front of a sign that says, "Kandy Girl, the first cannabis dispensary in the metaverse."
The writer visits Kandy Girl’s virtual store. Screenshot

It’s a Wednesday morning and I’m gazing up at a floor-to-ceiling sign that says “Kandy Girl” next to a pair of lips holding a lollipop like a joint. Well, my avatar is. My actual body is in my office chair, my laptop whirring from the strain of the graphics. Digital me, who has on red kitten heels and keeps her sunglasses on indoors, has trekked to a cannabis store in the metaverse and is looking to get high.

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Retailers from big box stores to luxury brands are putting a stake in the virtual world. Victoria’s Secret filed a trademark for virtual undies. Walmart is getting into crypto. McDonald’s is laying groundwork for a “a virtual restaurant online featuring home delivery.” Gucci is staffing up to sell NFTs via Gucci Vault, “a multi-directional exploration spanning digital realms.”

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But as with most new technologies, drugs got there first. In December, Forbes reported that cannabis vendors like Higher Life CBD (which has since partnered with weed seller Saucey Farms and Extracts) and Kandy Girl have opened up shops in online worlds like Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, virtual territories where there’s recently been a run on real estate. Kandy Girl claims to be “the first cannabis dispensary in the metaverse,” according to the sign I’m “standing” in front of. The brand is owned by a Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based entrepreneur named Alina Boyce, who purchased this virtual plot for the equivalent of $13,282.50, according to a press release. Advertised in the very, very pink virtual room are gummies infused with delta-9 THC, the same stuff that makes pot psychoactive.

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It took me some work to get to Kandy Girl, whose regular old website is eminently more accessible than its metaverse counterpart. First, I have to Zoom with a colleague to learn what the metaverse is. It’s not, it turns out, a singular universe existing on a different plane so much as it is, for now, a concept, one that’s been realized before (albeit more narrowly) with the virtual world Second Life, and arguably in games like Fortnite and even The Sims. Meta, né Facebook, is out to create its own metaverse. To reach Decentraland, where Kandy Girl is based, I luckily don’t need Oculus goggles, though it does run extremely slowly in my browser. After a few attempts to make a guest profile and some closing of other applications on my desktop, I am dropped into a landing area for new avatars. I find Kandy Girl’s coordinates on a map and teleport.

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The author's avatar stands in front of a counter, behind which is a QR code that says, "Free Sample" over it.
Yes, buying weed in the metaverse technically requires leaving the metaverse. Screenshot
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The Kandy Girl building is pink and sits next to a “Student Coin,” a platform where you can design your own crypto tokens; the vibe is a bit strip mall. I head to the back of the Kandy Girl store to find a stand with two tubs featuring pink pot leaves and “Delta 9” in cursive lettering. Even in places in the U.S. where pot itself is illegal, delta-9 THC can be sold as long as it’s extracted from hemp and makes up less than 0.3 percent of the weight of the final product in which it’s infused. (This is because of a loophole in a 2018 bill regulating hemp. “Congress still does not really understand the plant,” Thomas Howard, a cannabis lawyer who has worked with Kandy Girl, told L.A. Weekly last year.

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There is not, to be honest, much going on in Kandy Girl aside from these offerings, which barely exist in the metaverse themselves. Behind the stand is a giant QR code—several times the size of my virtual head—promising to lead me to a free sample. I scan it with my phone and am led to Kandy Girl’s website. I check out with Apple Pay, and two THC gummies are en route to my actual home, for the price of shipping. Wondering what else there is to see, I wander around the other floors of the dispensary. The top floor has some couches and NFTs on display. At a recent party here, I learn later from footage on YouTube, a participant danced on the roof in a purple tracksuit dotted with tiny hemp leaves, another pair of pink hemp leaves strapped to their shoulders like wings, both offerings from Kandy Girl’s virtual wearable collection. If it sounds cool, you should know it looks like a stilted computer game.

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A digital figurine that says, "anonymous" over it stands in front of green plants.
Checking out the plants at Saucey Farms and Extracts. Screenshot
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Is the metaverse just a gimmick? “It’s a different way to interact with people with e-commerce,” Brandon Howard, the CEO of Higher Life CBD, tells me. Yes, you could simply shop online. “But it would be even better if you can put VR goggles on, walk into the metaverse, and walk into a real dispensary. To me, that’s really entertaining.” While we’re on the phone, he texts me a link to his Cryptovoxels retail plot and suddenly I’m one of those poseable figurines for artists, trying to figure out how to walk around Howard’s store, which features his CBD products on the first floor and, as of last week, real marijuana from Saucey Farms on the second floor. “In the metaverse, I can be the real dispensary that I want to be,” Howard says (though only the CBD products are available for sale in states where pot is illegal, including Howard’s). As with Kandy Girl, you have to exit the metaverse to do the actual purchasing, in this case by clicking on a cash register, which is a little harsh on my mellow.

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It’s not just me and my virtual self who think the metaverse falls short of its promise of a magical shopping experience. One day we’ll be able to walk around the metaverse like it’s a normal mall, says Dedrick Boyd, the CEO of TechSparq, which helps brands keep their e-commerce efforts on the cutting edge. But right now, the metaverse “can feel a bit cartoon-y,” he says. “That’s because it came from the online gaming industry.” Boyd works with luxury brands, and in his vision of the metaverse, we’ll hang out with friends, try clothes on, and make purchases without breaking the spell—that is, being shunted back to the regular old internet in order to pay. A metaverse created with upscale commerce in mind promises to “bring the human factor back into shopping,” says Boyd, whether it’s being wined by a sales associate trying to close the deal on a $10,000 bag, or being able to ask a budtender a slew of questions about a strain of weed from the comfort of your couch.

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It might be easy to understand why the Facebooks and even Guccis of the world are making a bid at this—that’s what large companies do, try to get in on whatever the next big thing might be on the off chance it actually works out. For now, relatively small brands shelling out real money for virtual real estate get two things. The first is very concrete and old-fashioned: advertising. The metaverse stores don’t just cater to people walking around in the metaverse; they increase the visibility of a brand in the regular internet, too. (Would you be reading about a random CBD brand from Indiana were it not for its metaverse shop?) The second is a promise that you’re buying into something huge, what Boyd calls “a chance to reimagine the purpose and values of retail” in a video posted to LinkedIn. “The future belongs to the bold and the courageous,” says Boyd, in voice-over. That sentiment overlaps with lots of crypto marketing these days—crypto, is the entire premise of the future, or the makings of a hype bubble bound to go the way of Beanie Babies, depending on whom you ask.

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I am at once skeptical that the metaverse is how we will shop one day—skeptical that it is worth it, skeptical that it is even that different from our options now—and, in spite of myself, a little charmed by the concept, particularly for the use case of not-yet-quite-legal drugs. While at Howard’s dispensary, I take a series of screenshots of my virtual form standing next to the newly installed pot plants, excitedly texting them to my editor and a co-worker and uploading one to Instagram for good measure. Am I cool? I think, followed by, It can’t be cool to think this is cool. The next week, the goods from Kandy Girl arrive at my home, two gummies inside a shiny purple envelope labeled with a sticker that says DO NOT CRUSH. Maybe it’s a delivery from the future; maybe it’s just some funny gummies that I ordered on the internet.

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