There's a video on Reddit of a man delicately inserting a tiny ball of cannabis concentrate into a science fiction-y chamber that looks straight out of a supervillain's lair. The metal claw holding the wax withdraws and the tiny ball remains, suspended in midair. It's hard to see in the low-quality footage, but the dab floats as if in zero gravity.
That's right, it's 0G kush.
Then the screen lights up purple as a laser focuses on the weed ball, transforming it from a tacky solid into a gas that can be inhaled. The response on r/StonerEngineering ranged from obligatory “Star Trek” and “Rick and Morty” comparisons to constructive design feedback to pure stonerrific pleasure.
“This guy taking dabs to a level man isn't ready for,” one Redditor commented. It's incredibly trippy, and the person who made it believes it's the future of the weed industry.
Justin Zelaya, founder and CEO of weed technology company Silicon Cali, made the video to show off the prototype for a dab rig called The Reactor. The 30-year-old native San Franciscan has always lived years ahead of everyone else. He's a self-taught engineer and veteran business owner; he previously started an e-juice company and ran an electronics store called Ashbury Tech, which shared retail space with now-defunct head shop The Red House. He earned the nickname Stoney Stark after posting his inventions online, and works hard to live up to the title.
The name of his new project is inspired by the experimental levitation technology developed for nuclear power plants. As he answered questions, he was preparing to celebrate his birthday by chartering a boat, filling it with drones, and shooting them like skeet in international waters.
“I want to build the future,” Zelaya said.
What does the future look like for the cannabis industry? According to the Silicon Cali website, it's lasers. There, forward-thinking weed enthusiasts can pre-order a cyberpunk-looking laser lighter called the Plasma Portal, which is specially designed to light joints evenly on all sides, and a laser bong dubbed the B-Laze, which requires special eyewear to use safely. The B-Laze, retailing for $2,400 a pop, earned Zelaya's fledgling company some attention online in 2018. Both products will be produced in limited runs of only 420 units each.
The sci-fi aesthetic of Zelaya's oeuvre is certainly futuristic, down to the “Rick and Morty” music he used to demonstrate the B-Laze. The Reactor feels like a device that aliens would use to get high, but is this technology actually a glimpse into tomorrow's weed industry here on Earth? Zelaya is confident that the answer is yes. “I think of it as the future of where we're going with cannabis, and I'm just building it before anybody else does,” he said.
The rise of 'stoner fancy'
Silicon Cali is entering a cannabis market that's briskly growing as more states embrace legalization. The Reactor sits at the crossroads of three powerful trends driving projected growth: luxury, cannabis clubs, and wellness.
The mainstreaming of weed has unleashed a flood of expensive, highly-produced cannabis lifestyle products. There are stoner skin-care routines, Barneys New York's $950 bong (though that's a meager price tag next to this million-dollar one), and pot-friendly “weed mansions.” Nick Jack, the Chief Retail Officer for upscale Colorado cannabis outlet Diego Pellicer, calls the demographic these products target the “Cannabis Connoisseur.”
“These are people who are willing to spend a little more and enjoy the finer procurement in cannabis,” he told Weedmaps News in a phone interview. Jack said Diego Pellicer's flagship Denver outlet, which is decorated as a mix between a smoking lounge and an Egyptian temple, is courting the cannabis connoisseur with a $25,000 rig.
They're also the people Silicon Cali is gunning for with futuristic products like the B-Laze and The Reactor. “There's quite a large market for American glass; [$5,000] to $10,000 is pretty common for showpiece glasswork,” Zelaya said.
Zelaya added, “The big name blowers charge good money for their work, and it's beautiful. This is the same thing. I make them by hand, and each one is one-of-a-kind.”
Zelaya is also targeting the imminent market for shared spaces to partake with friends. BDS Analytics named the emergence of social cannabis clubs one of its top 10 trends for 2019, and sure enough, West Hollywood, California, is saw America's first legal cannabis cafe in September 2019. Zelaya, too, sees this trend, and is positioning Silicon Cali to serve these burgeoning businesses.
“I imagine I'm going to make some laser hookahs, which you'll see in lounges where everyone puts on the protective goggles and goes into the lounge,” he said.
Meanwhile, marijuana's medicinal medical benefits have also spawned a slew of weed products with vague wellness effects, such as CBD-infused everything and bud bath bombs. The Reactor's surface-level aesthetic appeal earned its short demo hundreds of comments and thousands of upvotes on Reddit's r/StonerEngineering forum, but Zelaya sees its purported health offerings as a vital selling point as well.
“The goal is to let you dab cleaner,” he explained. Typical materials like metal, ceramic, quartz crystal, and glass all have the potential to affect the flavor or collect residue that does. However, when the dab is levitating, Zelaya said, “You don't taste the medium it's coming off of, or the leftover crap on the glass, or the metal taste or anything like that. None of it gets into the hit.”
Heating the dab by laser also removes the need for butane lighters, which some believe lead to the inhalation of butane, which potentially affects the taste.
Silicon Cali has reportedly racked up hundreds of pre-orders. But are Zelaya's innovations truly a harbinger of what's in store for cannabis consumers? Jack isn't so sure.
After viewing the demo video, he said, “It's hard for me to say without putting my hands on it and trying it myself. It's certainly not like anything I've ever seen before. But if anything it speaks to where cannabis is heading and how far people are taking it.”
Nat Shaul, VP of marketing for cannabis distributor SpringBig, also weighed in after viewing the video. While she's excited by the concept, she made it clear that success will likely come down to price. Demand is growing both for cheap and convenient products and edge-case, extreme luxury goods such as The Reactor. The market is there, Shaul said, “However, if they price their product well above your typical cannabis accessories, there is a real possibility it will not sell well.”
But if Silicon Cali doesn't wind up finding commercial success through mass production, is it possible to see Zelaya's products as art?
“If you ask me, this dab rig is pretty fucking insane.”
Artist, curator, and cannabis marketing maven Eddie Donaldson founded the cannabis marketing company The Grow Division, has rolled with the world's largest and most prolific graffiti crew for decades, and also curated Artsy's official cannabis art show. He's sold weed-related art to billionaire heirs, famous rappers—but also ambitious 16-year-olds. If he's not qualified to make the call, no one is.
After viewing The Reactor's demo video, Donaldson said, “If you ask me, this dab rig is pretty fucking insane.”
Donaldson added that he definitely believes there's a market for the rig as an artwork, and that it is, in his opinion, art. “It's the connoisseur of dabbing that wants to be able to show off to their friends that they have the new, new. That's really what it is. And as long as he can keep that market, he probably should do pretty well. I believe that given the right marketing, that piece would flow through to some super exotic dab dudes that can afford it.”
When asked whether or not he considers the gravity-defying dab rig an artwork, Zelaya responded, simply, “Yeah.”
Feature illustration made by David Lozada/Weedmaps