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Potcoin, Dennis Rodman, and North Korea 

click to enlarge This bizarre spectacle is a libertarian's dream. - ZAPP2PHOTO / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock.com
  • This bizarre spectacle is a libertarian's dream.

A cannabis-centric cryptocurrency has sent a former-NBA-star-turned-amateur-diplomat to a hostile nation.

No, that's not the setup for a terrible joke, a fever hallucination or a Mike Judge-directed adaptation of George Orwell's 1984.

Former NBA superstar Dennis Rodman just returned from a quasi-ambassadorial trip to North Korea. Throughout, he was photographed wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of PotCoin — a cryptocurrency (think digital money, like BitCoin) designed for the cannabis industry.

PotCoin didn't respond to the Independent's questions about why the company was funding Rodman's trip, but the whole spectacle draws attention to two issues: The cannabis industry is willing to go to any lengths just to handle finances, and geopolitics has reached an absurd state in 2017.

Cryptocurrencies, like the well-known BitCoin, are decentralized, digital systems for trading goods and services. They have purely digital value based solely on supply and demand of the currency. The goal is to let citizens buy and sell without involving Uncle Sam, and to avoid the inflation that plagues greenbacks issued by the Federal Reserve. And if BitCoin is popular amongst libertarians, PotCoin is like a patron saint in "don't tread on me" circles, since it's all about ducking not one but two federal agencies — the Treasury Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

To use PotCoin, you create a "wallet," an eBay-style account that's made to be filled with PotCoins. Then you either accept PotCoins as payment, or you can buy them using normal dollars or another cryptocurrency on one of the online exchanges set up for this purpose. Buyers can use them to buy weed or whatever else a PotCoin-accepting merchant sells.

And, more than just a novelty, PotCoin hopes to solve a major problem for the cannabis industry — that traditional financial institutions are wary of opening accounts for canna businesses for fear they'll be punished for handling drug money. Absent a policy fix, pot shops primarily accept cash payment, make tax payments in cash, pay their employees in cash, and in general have lots of cash lying around. That's why an entire cottage industry sprouted up to provide cannabis businesses with guards, armored vans and other forms of security.

Some state governments are embracing cryptocurrencies as a workaround. This year, Washington state's Liquor and Cannabis Licensing Board allowed POSaBIT (a cryptocurrency startup that exchanges credit card charges to BitCoins) to provide four Seattle dispensaries with their new system. The upshot, according to reporting by Seattle Weekly, is convenience: Customers don't have to wait to use an ATM, pay fees or remember to bring cash. They simply swipe their credit card through the shop's point of sale device, which turns the credit into BitCoins then pays the stores in BitCoins. The shops can cash out their account at the end of the day, to avoid the risk of the digital currency going poof one day.

Following the move, some Washington lawmakers tried to ban cryptocurrencies from operating in the cannabis industry, out of concerns about transparency, but the legislative effort failed.

If states sanctioning what could be federal money laundering is weird, the rest of the PotCoin/Rodman picture is weirder.

Many countries use sports stars as de facto ambassadors, but Rodman's geopolitical experience now rivals that of junior Cabinet officials. Over the last few years, he's visited North Korea five times, usually meeting with its dictator Kim Jong-un, who Rodman calls one of his best friends and military officials call one of the United States' worst enemies.

Bizarrely, Rodman has more history with President Donald Trump than some of Trump's own staff, even if it comes from Trump's showbiz pedigree. Rodman was on The Apprentice, Trump's former reality TV show, twice. Rodman and Trump were also both TV commercial spokesmen in the 1990s, poking fun at their own personae to sell Pizza Hut.

The coverage of Rodman's North Korea visit itself doesn't escape the odd political/commercial/cultural connections.

The Washington Post loves Rodman's meetings and speculates on what conspiracy they indicate. A June 13 headline read: "Dennis Rodman is back in North Korea. Was he sent by Trump?" (The Post has not answered the question it posed.)

Also, the Post is now owned by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. The Post is one of Trump's worst critics, while Amazon sells the president's daughter's branded shoes.

The weirdest thing about PotCoin is that it's the most sensible part of this picture.

DJ Summers is a journalist and author of The Business of Cannabis, set to publish in the spring of 2018. Reach him at djsummers100@gmail.com.

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