Ababiy: CBD, artificial intelligence and Blockchain: aren’t you sick of it all?

Silicon Valley reaps the rewards of disruptive business techniques and we pay for it.

Jonathan Ababiy

In an October article in the Minnesota Daily, Wally’s Falafel and Hummus owner Wally Sakallah detailed some ambitious plans for the Chatime’s storefront. Chatime would leave for a spot near Tim Hortons and Sakallah would launch an innovative new coffee shop, Cosmic Bean Dispensary. Set to open on April 20, just two days before earth day, Cosmic Bean would combine college kids’ two favorite plants: coffee and cannabis. 

Sakallah told the Daily that the aptly named “Cosmic Bean” would serve CBD-infused coffee. He spoke as if he was describing the relationship between the ying and yang: the caffeine will give customers energy and the CBD will help them come back down, he said.

Those plans came back down to reality. The Minneapolis Health Department recently told Sakallah that he would have to sell its ying and yang separately. Infusing CBD in drinks and food would be a “critical violation” of the City’s food code. CBD isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration yet. 

Sakallah’s new business model? “Are you making coffee with CBD in it? No, we’re not. We’re not making coffee with the CBD. But we’re selling CBD, and we’re selling coffee,” he told the Daily earlier this week.

This story is funny because Sakallah’s entrepreneurial spirit perfectly captures our Silicon Valley-generated economic era: disrupt and innovate now, worry about the consequences later. Everyone is starting something to try and create the new Uber.

Slick techies have disrupted almost every facet of our lives with apps. The stock market is surging and new apps are coming out all the time. Words like Blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence leapt into our lexicon as if they were exhaust from Silicon Valley’s muffler. Our government has casually stood aside and let any smooth talker with a business idea disrupt the world. But at what cost?

One of the world’s fastest growing unicorns, or a startup worth $1 billion, makes the cost abundantly clear. A CNBC analysis found the 52 weeks prior to June, the electronic cigarette company Juul’s dollar sales had risen by an astronomical 783 percent. Despite having the shape of a flash drive, Juul made vaping cool and quickly raked in mountains of cash. Juul’s overexposure blossomed into memes. Meanwhile, it was impossible to walk anywhere in Dinkytown in April or September without seeing small clouds of cucumber or mango rising toward the sky. Juul tried to disrupt vaping — and succeeded, taking 68 percent of the market.

The sponsors of Juul’s trip of disruption from lowly Stanford startup to billion-dollar company are in the lungs and brain receptors of thousands of middle school, high school and college students. The bathrooms of educational institutions across the country turned into dens of quickly dissolving clouds of nicotine vapor. For teachers, finding their students’ Juuls became an elaborate and difficult game of hide and seek. 

No one really definitively knows the science of Juuling yet. Scientists are still trying to decipher its lasting negative effects. But in the meantime, vaping has disrupted our world. After decades of advertisements and public campaigns by anti-smoking advocates beat down teen-smoking rates, nicotine has become an attractive substance to many people in the most formative years of their lives. 

The FDA is just taking serious action this week. It announced it required Juul to stop selling at convenience stores and discontinue its fruit flavors. But what does it mean if thousands have experienced the pleasures of nicotine before they’ve even gotten their permit? No one asked them to, but the smooth talkers in the glass towers have disrupted the world — and gotten rich in the process.

Maybe the balm to the stress of disruption and our newfound Juul addiction is actually a piping hot cup of CBD coffee. Isn’t progress good?