SAN FRANCISCO — It was just about a year ago that Kevin Faler came up with his get-rich-quick marijuana scheme. No, he does not plan to sell the drug, even if Californians vote next week to become the first state in the nation to fully legalize it. He intends to sell the Internet real estate that could one day lead to marijuana Web sites.
Mr. Faler, a former police officer who once worked the narcotics beat, has registered more than 1,000 marijuana-related Internet domain names, including oddities like icecreammarijuana.com and marijuanapastry.com. And he is not the only one banking on the drug’s online future. He is part of an Internet land grab for marijuana domains by so-called domainers who hope to sell their holdings at a profit, betting that more lenient marijuana laws will eventually drive more people to the Web for their supplies, whether they are seeking seeds, bongs, recipes or drug-laced dog treats.
All of this has been given a fresh burst of intensity by next week’s vote on Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would legalize up to an ounce of the drug for recreational use. Fourteen states have already legalized medical marijuana.
“Marijuana domain name values will fly off the charts once Prop 19 passes,” said Mr. Faler, 49. “I’m hoping to make enough money to buy a condo in Morocco. That’s how big it’s going to be.”
Mr. Faler, who lives about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles in Menifee, Calif., is poised to enter the pets and marijuana market by registering domains like potfordogs.com and marijuanadogbone.com because “dogs get cancer too” he says.
While it is unclear if such investments by enthusiastic newcomers will pay off, buying and selling Internet domain names can be a profitable business. The industry is estimated to be worth billions of dollars. A $13 million sale is pending for sex.com. In June, slots.com sold for $5.5 million and dating.com for $1.75 million. The New Jersey company that paid over $1 million for marijuana .com in 2004 says it has turned down five offers for more than $2 million for the domain in the last 12 months.
Domainers use various strategies when acquiring domain names. While Mr. Faler tends to register domains that struck his fancy at odd hours of the night, Jordan Zazzara of Long Island prefers the geographer’s method. With the help of a California map, Mr. Zazzara, 21, chose “geo-targeted” domains, registering ones that combined the state’s major city names with the words marijuana, weed, ganja, bud and cannabis.
For between $7 and $10 dollars a pop, he registered 100 domains stretching between beverlyhillsmarijuana.com and modestocannabis.com. He intends to keep them by renewing the registration every year for a nominal fee, until they are worth at least $5,000 each, he says. “I’ll sit on them for as long as I have to,” he said. “And when marijuana is an accepted thing like alcohol, which it eventually will be, these things will be worth a lot.”
Despite the enthusiasm of speculators, whether this marijuana domain gold rush will yield much legal tender depends in large part on politics.
In recent weeks, Proposition 19 has lost its lead in the polls — a recent one from the Public Policy Institute of California showed 49 percent of respondents against the measure and 44 percent in favor — but it is still favored by most younger voters and Democrats. In another blow to Proposition 19 supporters, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that even if voters passed the ballot measure, federal law enforcement officials planned to aggressively prosecute federal marijuana laws in the state.
"How much these things are worth is up to the political winds,” said Michael H. Berkens, editor of thedomains.com, a leading online news source on the domain business.
So far, most marijuana domains are being registered and resold on the cheap. DN Journal, an online publication that tracks domain sales, has documented just one dot-com domain containing the word “marijuana” that sold this year for at least $2,000, suggesting they are not yet worth much.
Still, Mr. Berkens thinks marijuana domains could be a good investment; he sees the political momentum moving toward legalization and decriminalization. “We own gaymarriage.com,” said Mr. Berkens, who is also president of Worldwide Media, a company that owns some 75,000 domains, 57 of them marijuana related. “That’s another one of these politically charged hot topics, heavily dependent on politics.”
Some in the domain business are torn for more personal reasons between a potentially lucrative investment opportunity and the moral ambiguities of marijuana.
In late September, Shane Cultra, 41, was bidding in an online auction for the domain smokingmarijuana.com when suddenly he stopped, midclick. “I asked myself, do I want to be in that business?” said Mr. Cultra, who runs a nursery in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and moonlights as a domainer specializing in plant and horticultural domains.
“There is tremendous investment opportunity there,” Mr. Cultra said. “Before long, you will be able to buy and sell marijuana on the Internet.”
But Mr. Cultra worries about associating his name — which he shares with an uncle who is a Republican member of the Illinois House of Representatives — with illegal, or morally shady, activities. He has a rule against buying pornography domains, another potentially profitable endeavor.
If marijuana were legal nationally, Mr. Cultra would not hesitate to snap up marijuana domains. “But then it will be too late,” he said. “The real opportunity is now.”
By MALIA WOLLAN
October 27, 2010
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Marijuana Web Names Snapped Up, in Case of Legalization