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.”