A cryptocurrency conference in New York is under fire after attendees reported feeling high, apparently after consuming marijuana-infused food without knowing that the food contained THC.

The promotional materials for the $500 per ticket event held earlier in March, called Crypto Sanctum, indicated that the event would cultivate “an environment in which intellect, art, music, business, philosophy, and caring for humanity can all co-exist.” The event was supposed to provide education for attendees on all aspects of cryptocurrency, including tokens and blockchain technology, the technology on which cryptocurrency is based. The event was organized by a group called “The Decentralists” in conjunction with a cryptocurrency project called IOVO, which stands for “Internet of Value Omniledger,”

WIRED wrote about the event,  detailing one employee’s story of attending the conference, consuming food there, and then attending a meeting with her boss, during which she felt so stoned she had to leave the meeting and go home. Other attendees shared similar stories of being unaware that the food and drinks they were consuming contained THC, and as such, were shocked to find themselves stoned without any awareness that it would be the case.

The catering company that provided the fare for the event is called Magical Butter – the menu text offered attendees the chance to “experience inspiring culinary arts highlighting the benefits of herbs” without specific explanations. The menu, which was obtained and posted by WIRED, noted that some of the condiments served were “infused,” but without a more overt explanation, many of the attendees were left in the dark about the status of the food. Attendees warned each other about the potent food as the day went on, and one video that was posted to Facebook features one commenting that she had been “very high” earlier, to which another guest responded, “all day, all day.”

Attendees expressed their anger over the state of the food on the app Telegram, posting and reaching out to sponsors. According to the WIRED article, a representative from IOVO apologized via Telegram and indicated that they were not involved with the catering. The article also stated that the publication had reached out to the catering company but had not received a response. Based on evidence that WIRED was able to obtain, it appeared that Francoise Sinclair, who was supposed to open and close the event, was the main organizer. Sinclair apparently works for Brock Pierce, director of the Bitcoin Foundation, who was recently mentioned in John Oliver’s piece on blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, but it is unclear is Pierce attended the event or was involved.

The IOVO Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Krzysztof Gagacki said it was “deeply disturbing and unacceptable,” and indicated that IOVO employees had also been subjected to the THC-infused food. He continued, “The incident had a significant impact on the conference schedule, and some of our own team were so affected that they were unable to stay to the end. It is for this same reason that I wasn’t able give a presentation​.​Unfortunately, the incident hurts the legitimacy of the whole blockchain movement. I would like to make it clear: substance abuse is against the values that we uphold. ​Even though IOVO contributed to the overall program of the Crypto Sanctum conference and provided its website, we were not engaged in any executive services. IOVO as an event partner was not involved in food and drinks organization, and we had no knowledge about any nonstandard components used in the process of their preparation.​”

This is hardly the sort of negative publicity that either the cannabis or cryptocurrency markets need. As the question of legalization looms over cannabis, carrying its own stigmas and stereotypes of the typical “stoner,” cryptocurrency as a whole has had to battle its own set of stereotypes, including the negative ones such as the link between crypto and illegal activity. Bitcoin rose to early fame as a way to purchase illegal items such as drugs online, and also has been considered by many detractors as a way to launder money. Now that cryptocurrency is rising in acceptance, and has proliferated in both relative ease of usage and availability – access to exchanges and amounts of available cryptocurrencies has skyrocketed in recent years – issues remain, including fears of “pump and dump” schemes and scammers, as well as overhanging issues of regulation.

Last year, The Rodman Law Group sponsored a cryptocurrency cannabis conference in Denver, and was pleased with, but in no way surprised by, the levels of professionalism and expertise demonstrated by the attendees and the presenters. The New York example is clearly an outlier in how these conferences are conducted, and it is a shame that negativity surrounding these conferences can often quickly outweigh the usual (and honestly, often mundane) structure of most cryptocurrency and cannabis events, which generally mirror the typical business or networking conference.

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