It is a good time to be into botanicals.
In the last year, the hoopla around newfangled smoking technologies has fallen on e-cigarettes, which heat drops of oil to let smokers inhale vapours, getting the nicotine and other flavours without the ill-effects of combustion.
But all the while, e-cigarettes' sister technology, portable vaporizers – aimed at people who'd rather inhale plant matter – have been emerging as a mainstream industry in their own right. And one Toronto entrepreneur has been riding that boom, capitalizing on new vaporizer technology – and their newfound respectability.
"A vaporizer is a device that heats up your botanicals or herbs to a specific temperature that allows the user to extract the oils or active ingredients without having to combust or burn the plant matter," says Nima Noori, the affable founder of TorontoVaporizer.com, who is reserved to the point of being coy about just what his customers are vaporizing.
A former financial worker with a German bank, Mr. Noori started the venture on a credit card with a $2,000 limit in 2009. Tired of juggling invoices and orders, running what he calls a "poor man's just-in-time" operation, he came close to selling the venture just before the market truly heated up. He persisted, and today, the company employs 15 people; Mr. Noori says they're now a multi-million dollar business.
He says there's especially a demand for newer pocket-sized portable units that offer the advantages of vaporizing plant matter without needing to carry around a loud, cumbersome machine. Vaporizing (not to be confused with "vaping," which is what e-cigarette users do) bypasses combustion in the process of releasing a botanical's active ingredients, much like baking botanicals into your brownies.
Vaporizers have become big business for a few reasons. One is technological advances: Better batteries that enabled portable units, and technology crossover with e-cigarettes, which Mr. Noori says are slightly simpler devices, since they need only heat up a drop of oil rather than a chamber of plant matter.
And then there's the fact that marijuana itself is rapidly going mainstream. In the space of a few years, legalization has gone from a fringe political position to something that federal leaders will discuss; indeed, pot is one of the milder substances that politicians are smoking these days.
Vaporizer reviews that were once the domain of dodgy web forums now appear on mainstream technology websites like Gizmodo. One of Mr. Noori's top sellers, for instance, is the Da Vinci Ascent, a unit Gizmodo describes as being the size of "two iPhones stacked atop one another," that has an LED display, can heat up in half a minute, and vaporize your plant matter to within a 5-10 degree range.
Like many vaporizer stores, TorontoVaporizer seems intent on distancing itself from the pot subculture that sees paraphernalia retailers adorn themselves in the colours of the Jamaican flag and deck themselves out in cannabis leaves. Instead, newer entrants are offering more mainstream-looking online stores that also sell herbs that can be vaporized for aromatherapy, like chamomile, peppermint and lemonbalm. (Though if you squint at the TorontoVaporizer logo – a big green V with a winking CN Tower in the middle – you might just see a hint of something.)
Mr. Noori says that he has no legal authority to ask what clients are using his vaporizers for ("I get reports occasionally that some cancer specialists go to our website because it's hard to get quality vaporizers," he says). Still, he says, there's one association he'd actively like to avoid: Nicotine. "We are staying away from e-cigarettes and such, because there are some stigmas."