The Insta king trying to dominate UK cannabis

Controversial social media star Dan Bilzerian is wearing a tiny pair of orange shorts and a tight white T-shirt when I meet him.

It’s not the outfit of a typical company founder, but one that already feels familiar thanks to the thousands of similar photos of himself he’s posted on social media.

The wealthy, muscular, perma-tanned American has been dubbed the King of Instagram for documenting his apparently lavish lifestyle of extravagant parties, fast cars, yachts, adventure sports and guns while constantly surrounded by a posse of near-naked, adoring women.

He’s in the UK trying to break into the nascent cannabis market with his company Ignite.

Already established in the US and Canada, the company is selling vaping liquids and e-cigs, edible drops and lip balms which contain a cannabis extract known as Cannabidiol or CBD.

It’s the latest in a rush of companies to try and exploit what is expected to become a booming commercial market.

While recreational use of cannabis remains illegal in most places in the world, CBD has no psychoactive effect which means it can’t get you high.

There are not yet any conclusive scientific studies on its effect, but many users have claimed it has helped relieve inflammation and pain or reduced their anxiety.

In the UK it’s legal to sell it, providing firms don’t make any claims about its medical benefits and it contains no THC, the cannabis part, which does get you high.

Industry insiders say Ignite’s money and scale – it’s currently valued at around £90m – mean it has the potential to dominate in a sector which is still at an early stage.

The prospect of the firm’s success fills Carly Barton, a campaigner for people who use cannabis for medical purposes, with dread. She recently pulled out of an industry conference after discovering Mr Bilzerian was speaking at it.

“We’re building up an industry which has barely just begun. We’ve got the opportunity to shape it in the way we feel is appropriate for the people. There is a responsibility to set some kind of moral standard.

“We can’t let people come in and think it’s okay to parade girls around with the products.”

Ignite has been marketed largely by Mr Bilzerian’s own social media feeds. He has a following of 27 million people on Instagram alone, despite the blatantly sexist nature of many of his posts which evoke a bygone era of say the 1970s, not the 2019 post-MeToo era we’re living in.

Like some kind of superhero cartoon character, this Hugh Hefner of the internet age lives alone in a huge mansion, has had all his body hair removed so he can show off his muscles better and has regular stem cell injections to treat his sports injuries.

In person, he’s surprisingly low key. Serious, softly spoken and even likeable.

He says his Instagram feed is the “highlight reel” for his life, showcasing the “kind of aspirational lifestyle of fast cars, nice things that when I was a kid I thought was really cool and I wished that I had”.

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