Mon, Nov 01, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Marijuana Internet names snapped up in legalization gamble

By Malia Wollan  /  NY Times News Service, SAN FRANCISCO

ILLUSTRATION: YUSHA

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 this 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.

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 this week’s vote on Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would legalize up to an ounce (28g) 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 Faler, 49. “I’m hoping to make enough money to buy a condo in Morocco. That’s how big it’s going to be.”

Faler, who lives about 145km southeast of Los Angeles in Menifee, California, 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 US$13 million sale is pending for sex.com. In June, slots.com sold for US$5.5 million and dating.com for US$1.75 million. The New Jersey company that paid more than US$1 million for marijuana.com in 2004 says it has turned down five offers for more than US$2 million for the domain in the last 12 months.

Domainers use various strategies when acquiring domain names. While 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, 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 US$7 and US$10 a pop, he registered 100 domains stretching the distance 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 US$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 largely 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, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that even if voters passed the ballot measure, federal law enforcement officials planned to aggressively -prosecute federal marijuana laws in the state.

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