Buy your cannabis online...

So far you can only get the T-shirt, but the founders of iToke think it's just a matter of time.
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The Independent Online

The image of a typical cannabis smoker uncannily matches that of atypical Net-user - thirtysomething members of the slacker generation looking to rebel, but in a mild way.

The image of a typical cannabis smoker uncannily matches that of atypical Net-user - thirtysomething members of the slacker generation looking to rebel, but in a mild way.

Tim Freccia and Mike Tucker are such archetypal Generation X-ersthat they could have stepped straight out of a Douglas Coupland novel - they're both in their thirties, were born in Seattle and work in new media. These guys are also the founders of iToke (www.itoke.co.uk), an Amsterdam-based website that aims to make the whole process of buying pot safe and respectable.

Pay a visit to the iToke site and you'll see why some Amsterdam coffeehouse owners have accused them of attempting to Amazonify the coffee-shop scene. The stylish iToke website has been designed to look like a mix of Apple's online store and Starbucks' coffee site.

The buying process seems simple, you get yourself a rechargeable iToken, which works much like a phone card. Then you place your order via the website or over the phone or by using a WAP phone (two grams max, I'm afraid). A bicycle courier delivers your cannabis and if it doesn't get there within 30 minutes then, just like pizza deliveries, you get your goods for free.

The only problem is that this revolutionary service was meant to launch in Amsterdam on 1 September, but currently the only thing that you are able to buy is an iToke T-shirt. Co-founder Tim Freccia explains: "We made a strategic decision not to launch for a couple of reasons. The biggest was because of the amount of publicity we'd had over the last few months, we thought we would have a media circus. The second reason was we were getting mail from a certain sector of the Amsterdam coffee-shop community that seemed to indicate that we were being misconceived."

The original plan had been to sneak the service into Amsterdam, where cannabis is, of course, legal in small amounts, and to provide a working example of the iToke service in action. Freccia and Tucker hoped a service in the Netherlands could pave the way for further test beds in the UK, Canada or the US. But their plans were foiled: "I don't think it's possible now because of all the attention we've received. We learned a big lesson in Amsterdam and that's not to announce a launch date," admits Freccia.

But the guys haven't given up and, even without the e-commerce side of the business up and running, it's obvious iToke has struck a nerve among Net users. Since the site went live six months ago, it's already had 100 million eyeballs and continues to attract around 30,000 visitors a day. Freccia claims the response has been overwhelmingly positive: "We can count the negative responses on one hand."

So they've got the traffic and they've got the publicity. The other great advantage these guys have is they're first to market - and Amazon's Jeff Bezos will tell you all about the vital importance of being first to market in a burgeoning e-commerce sector. Richard Branson might have claimed Virgin would brand cannabis as soon as it became legal, but iToke got in there first.

Freccia and Tucker recognise that if cannabis is legalised around the world then iToke could turn them into billionaires overnight. "We figure it's going to be legalised, it's not like pot laws are going to get more strict anywhere and we wanted to get in there first. In any location where pot becomes legal, we're going to be there," said Freccia.

This is a duo that has already got some very ambitious plans for iToke brand extensions. They want to set up a series of cafés around the world, which will go under the brand name iTokeo and will be alternatives to the likes of Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café.

"iTokeo is a physical manifestation of this freedom of lifestyle mentality. Say a group of software executives want to hold a meeting, there's something seedy about coffee-shops and there's something cheesy and old-fashioned about Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock. Instead they'd come to iTokeo," explains Freccia. The pair are already "talking to people" in America's West Coast with a view to setting up the first iTokeo café.

It might sound like one huge potential cash cow, but these guys claim they're not just in it for the money, they see themselves as spokespeople for a generation. "We wanted to set up a business that our contemporaries would respond to - the Generation X or Slacker generation who all of a sudden have found themselves in the forefront of the new economy. We realised the people we grew up with are probably now Seattle tech workers pulling in a joint salary of around a quarter of a million dollars. They've got houses and kids but they still smoke pot in the basement. We figured it was time to upgrade that image."

Ever the optimists, Freccia and Tucker believe that cannabis will be legalised soon. "In the US and UK this is a very timely issue. In the US gambling was illegal 20 years ago, but that's all changed now. The world moves much quicker now and we believe the legalisation of cannabis could happen quickly."

Right now, though, the guys seem to have reached an impasse. The Netherlands is the only country in the world where they could launch a pot delivery service immediately and their plans there have now ground to a halt. So where do they go from here? Freccia explains rather cagily that iToke is in a state of "strategic planning" and that they haven't completely abandoned their plans in Amsterdam.

"At the moment, we're trying to engage in dialogue with municipal governments as well as influential lobbyists. We've decided this is too big to walk away from," he says.

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