For all this talk about marijuana culture going mainstream, and corporate pot developing brands that appeal to everyone from soccer moms to achy grandparents, the truth is that, in the cannabis market, sex still sells. So, for that matter, do mansion parties, celebrities, private planes, custom cars and supermodels.
This is why, with just under three million Instagram followers, the most powerful weed influencer in the world for the past few years has been an ex-black-market tycoon named BigMike — two words, no space. BigMike runs Advanced Nutrients, the ubiquitous, cannabis-centric agricultural supply business with annual revenues of over $110 million, and put decades of illicit growing experience into the launch of his signature line of legal pot, known as BigMike’s Blends.
Then, last year, the OG Instagram playboy daredevil, Dan Bilzerian, decided to join the marijuana industry, launching a line of vape pens, pre-rolls, extracts, buds and tinctures under the brand name Ignite, bringing his 26 million followers into the mix and setting up a natural battle between the two controversial men: for customers, for double-taps, and for the ire of self-respecting women everywhere.
Like the Fox News of pot, Bilzerian and BigMike both know how to cater to their base. Both men use social media to chronicle their outrageous exploits, and are seemingly flanked wherever they go by a harem in lingerie or bodycon dresses. (Bilzerian says the pics of him cavorting with nearly naked women are just “catering to, I think, the majority of my followers’ sexual frustration.” BigMike declined to comment for this story.) Both live on spacious estates in the Hollywood Hills, where they’ve been known to host (and post about) decadent soirées: one of Bilzerian’s recent pot-centric bashes featured an in-house tattoo parlor and a performance by Cardi B.
And both men have had glamorous brushes with the law: Michael “BigMike” Straumietis spent nearly a decade on the run from the DEA for cultivating massive amounts of marijuana, while Bilzerian’s affection for explosive weaponry has led to a misdemeanor in the U.S. (he pleaded no contest) and an arrest warrant from the country of Azerbaijan.
So even as Canadian marijuana mega-firms raise billions in institutional capital with sunny projections about expanding the market of people who use cannabis, the core stoner demographic — young men who consume a lot of pot — remains a powerful force, both culturally and commercially. Just as casinos offer free hotel rooms to compulsive gamblers and liquor companies survive on the money of alcoholics, the weed industry relies on heavy users. And if Instagram followers are any metric, the potheads of the world want three things from their marijuana moguls: butts, boobs and bikinis.
Still, not all weed-tinged fantasy lives are created equal. Bilzerian and BigMike are not, of course, exactly the same guy. There’s diversity among the white men who sell pot these days, you know? BigMike is 59, and rocks a reddish grey goatee, while Bilzerian is 38, and opts for a dark, full beard. Bilzerian grew up with a trust fund and played professional poker; BigMike is self-made. Bilzerian is jacked, while BigMike has a dad-bod. BigMike’s family is Greek, while Bilzerian’s is Armenian. Bilzerian is coming off a recent breakup, while BigMike got engaged last fall to a Bulgarian model who did not speak English when they first met.
Perhaps most importantly, pot connoisseurs would note that BigMike is the real expert, here, and actually oversees the farms producing bud for his eponymous pre-rolled joints, while Bilzerian’s Ignite merely licenses its branding out, and does not yet hold any marijuana business licenses.
BigMike’s feed is also peppered with inspirational quotes, something you’d apparently never find on Bilzerian’s.
“Some of the stuff he does is a little cheesy,” Bilzerian sniffs, about BigMike. “I don’t think we’re really doing the same things, other than smoking weed.”
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