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Why Dennis Rodman promoted potcoin at a North Korea summit

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Peak 2018

Photo: ADEK BERRY /AFP / Getty Image

The North Korean summit this week with US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had an extra visitor hyping up a marijuana-focused cryptocurrency. Retired pro basketball player Dennis Rodman arrived in Singapore on June 11th, wearing a T-shirt to rep the virtual currency potcoin.

So what is potcoin exactly? Potcoin was released through GitHub in 2014 by three entrepreneurs in Montreal, including Joel Yaffe and Nick Iversen, at appropriately 4:20PM. Its website describes the coin as a “banking solution for the $100 billion global legal marijuana industry.” Its trade volume over the last 24 hours has reached $1.1 million. It’s not the only coin dedicated to marijuana. There’s also dopecoin, hempcoin, cannabiscoin, and a host of other smaller cryptos.

Rodman announced his trip on Twitter, saying he was going to “give whatever support is needed to my friends, @realDonaldTrump and Marshall Kim Jong Un.” Rodman also supported Trump by wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat along with the green potcoin shirt.

This is the second time Rodman has traveled to North Korea with the sponsorship of potcoin. The digital coin stepped in as Rodman’s sponsor beginning last year, saying, “We believe in Dennis Rodman’s mission to bring peace to the world.” The cryptocurrency backed his June 2017 trip to North Korea, and as part of the arrangement, Rodman wore potcoin merch, including a T-shirt and hat. The resulting exposure gave a temporary 60 percent bump to the coin’s value, boosting it to around 17 US cents. It then fell 23 percent in value.

Shawn Perez, a potcoin spokesperson, told The Washington Post, “We at potcoin definitely believe that Dennis Rodman deserves the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with President Trump and the Marshal Kim Jong Un.”

Rodman took his first trip to North Korea in 2013 with Vice correspondent Ryan Duffy. He and other members of the group were the first Americans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That year, Rodman told Sports Illustrated, “My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries. Why it’s been left to me to smooth things over, I don’t know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it’s the black guy’s [Obama’s] job. But I’ll tell you this: If I don’t finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something’s seriously wrong.”

Rodman’s flown to Pyongyang five times since Kim Jong-un became North Korea’s leader. Previously, his trips were sponsored by Irish betting website Paddy Power. It eventually severed the relationship in December 2013, citing “the worldwide scrutiny and condemnation of the North Korean regime in recent weeks.”

Rodman’s presence and involvement with the actual politics of the 2018 summit are not clear, though a State Department spokesperson told CNET, “We have no comment on Dennis Rodman’s private travel. He’s not a representative of the US government.”

So what does this have to do with potcoin? Celebrities endorsing cryptocurrencies has been a common phenomenon over the past year and a half as virtual coins became more popular. Recently, celebs like Ghostface Killah from the Wu-Tang Clan, actor Jamie Foxx, and pro boxer Floyd Mayweather have all gotten involved in endorsing alternative cryptocurrencies.

The SEC has warned investors to be wary of coins endorsed by celebrities, saying: “Celebrities who endorse an investment often do not have sufficient expertise to ensure that the investment is appropriate and in compliance with federal securities laws.” It has even gone as far as creating its own fake initial coin offering website complete with fake celebrity endorsements to get its point across.

But even while they’re legally dubious, celebrity endorsements are still effective at promoting virtual coins that are otherwise not well-known outside of the cryptocurrency community.

As with last year’s trip, potcoin’s price jumped a bit when Rodman was photographed wearing the merch, although this time it was less substantial. There was an initial 20 percent bump last night, adding $4 million to its market cap. That has started to settle, and it’s currently up 15 percent in value for the day.

Several headlines say potcoin’s price is “soaring” as a result of Rodman’s endorsement, but the coin isn’t worth much to begin with. A double-digit increase means it’s only gone up a couple of cents in value. Currently, potcoin’s value is just under 10 cents, according to CoinMarketCap, with a market cap of around $20 million. To compare, that’s only about 0.01 percent of bitcoin’s total value of just under $116 billion.

As far as using potcoin, there’s a dedicated digital wallet called potwallet that can be used online or on Android. (Sorry, iPhone users. It’s currently pending Apple App Store approval.) It can also be traded on platforms like Bittrex and Poloniex, but the actual usefulness of potcoin is debatable. Since inception, its value hasn’t increased all that much, and it’s hard to pinpoint how many vendors actually accept potcoin as payment. (Five online marketplaces are listed here.) Additionally, the coin’s online presence is generally quiet outside of flamboyant marketing stunts. (Its subreddit, for example, has only a few thousand subscribers.)

It’s not really that Rodman repping potcoin at a North Korean summit is unexpected. It’s more about how it feels like a culmination of multiple cultural trends coming together in one absurd moment. Over the last two years under Trump’s presidency, we’ve seen the line between celebrity and politics converge more and more. And while the rise of cryptocurrency has made some people very rich, it’s also been followed by sketchy endorsements, scams, hacks, and more government scrutiny. As one Twitter user wrote, seeing Rodman wear a MAGA hat and rep potcoin at the same time feels like peak 2018.