Twitter and Instagram recently cracked down on a Colombian man who supposedly produced a ton of cocaine and tried to sell it online. But the “cocaine” didn't get you high. In fact, you couldn't even snort it if you wanted to.
Camilo Restrepo, a Medellin based artist, had created “a ton” of what he termed “crypto cocaine”—a series of 1,000 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that each depicted the image of a kilo of blow.
For those not abreast of the latest online boom, NFTs are digital files with receipts saved on a blockchain that can be bought and sold, allowing collectors to feel they “own” something as ephemeral as a JPEG. Over the past year, nearly anything online appears to be available as an NFT; from famous sports moments, to drawings, as well as popular tweets and music.
And much like cocaine in the 1980s, the buying and selling of NFTs have become a multi-billion dollar industry in 2021.
Restrepo told VICE World News that he saw the NFT boom in the art world as a way “to open a debate about the failure of the war on drugs” by selling “the first legal ton of ‘cocaine’ in history.”
The project, titled a ToN oF coke, sells 1,000 NFTs of identical JPEGs that Restrepo himself termed “a boring image.” Each is simply a three-dimensional white rectangle on a gray background. However, each NFT in the series is more expensive than the last, until the most expensive NFT equals around the same value as what Restrepo claims a kilo of coke sells for in Colombia. The identical images represent the indistinguishable packages of cocaine produced throughout the country for decades.
Restrepo, 48, grew up in Medellin during the heyday of Pablo Escobar and other prominent Colombian cocaine traffickers. Since then, much of his work as an artist was inspired by his experience growing up surrounded by violence around the drug trade.
“These violent situations marked me deeply. There were bombs outside the house, bombs that killed friends, bombs in places where I was and fortunately nothing happened to me,” said Restrepo. “They killed family members, people I knew, many many people.”
But the bloodshed he saw during his youth only led to more violence because “what happened at this time was [the government] tried to eliminate war, drugs, with a war against drugs,” he continued.
His experience has made him believe deeply in the need to decriminalize drugs and move away from prohibition.
But when he began trying to sell legal “crypto cocaine”, which he emphasized “does not represent real cocaine in any way,” it wasn't law enforcement who came after him. It was the social media companies.
Soon after a ToN oF coke went online in June, the platforms took notice. A Twitter account he set up in July to promote the project was suspended. He's also had two Instagram posts removed from his personal account due to what the platform said was the “sale of illegal or regulated goods.” Restrepo was warned that another similar post would lead to his account being banned, so he had to stop promoting the project online.
In the end, the banning actually helped promote the project. Recently, news of the social media sanctions on the project went viral in Spanish-language media, and the “censorship in social networks is causing greater traffic in social networks,” he noted sardonically.
It also caused heated debate about the war on drugs in the comments sections online, which Restrepo considered a success of his project. Not to mention he's now sold over 50 kilos of crypto coke. Not a bad haul for legal “cocaine” that doesn’t even get the buyer high.