A couple of years ago, Omair Alam was at a party full of people “in the bhabis and bhaiyas category”, when people started asking around for a joint. “That’s the time I realised it’s not just me—everybody’s OK with it,” Alam told me when we met in a Delhi coffee shop in January.
Alam was excited about VICE’s impending launch in India. “Hire me,” he said, smiling charmingly. “I can do ten things at once. Should I send in my resume?” I told him to go ahead. “I don’t actually have one,” he confessed. Before launching The Dankville earlier this year, the 28-year-old had been involved in a number of other projects, most of them offshoots of his father’s garment business.
“I would consider myself as someone who’s left my background for this,” Alam told me. “I’ve been waiting to do something like this all my life.” He had been a national-level competitive shooter, set up a clothing brand, and a t-shirt brand. But weed was always his true passion.
Alam believes cannabis culture in India needs an update, and that mairjuana needs to be legalised and regulated, not least to guard against adultration. “I’m totally against the Rasta feel,” he said. “So my main focus is on getting an image created of an ‘ideal stoner’—namely, me. Someone who works out, eats right, has a job.” The Dankville, which is produced by a web team that took a stake in the project as payment, has a fun, millennial feel, with the molecular symbol for THC as part of its logo. “The company wants to “be a little ScoopWhoop-ish, but in a very stoner way,” said Alam.
Currently, the site includes cannabis-related news, articles on the culture of smoking up, a glossary, and a small shop. The flagship product is a “420 Box” with imported rolling paper, roaches, a lighter, organic hemp wick, a tray and a doob tube. There’s also a pre-rolled cone made of edible 24k gold leaf, reminiscent of a high-end shaadi-paan. There are some videos in the pipeline, and a “Dankmaster” program to create and train weed ambassadors around the country.
“The plan is to make dankmasters in every city, and feed information from them,” Alam said. “Like I’m getting information from Bangalore, from Manipal, Las Vegas and Toronto right now.” At launch, the Dankville HQ in Delhi consisted of Alam, his girlfriend and three designers. Besides managing Dankville's Instagram and Facebook pages, they also ran a more mainstream social media company to support the business.
When we met, some of Alam’s more ambitious plans had been put on hold. He'd hoped for funding from his dad, but was going through a rough patch with family and had stopped working with them for the past several months. “They kind of love me at times, and disown me at times,” he admitted. “It’s because of the kind of person I am.”
He went on, “Their being a Muslim and me being a Muslim is completely different. I’m more of a Muslim-good-human-being, and they’re more of a namaaz-padna hai paanch waqt scene.” Switching to Hindi, he added, "Mein chah raha hoon ki ab anpa kaam bana loon, bada doon, aur apna sukoon se sort karoon, bus.” I just want to grow my business and sort myself out in peace.
“I’ve already associated myself with international brands,” said Alam, who has travelled to trade shows in the US. “I have a comment from Matt Gray, the founder of Herb, on how he ‘fucking loves my page’.” He had a request for me too: “If you could, get Snoop Dogg and Dr Dina to see our page.”
Until cannabis is fully legalised in India though, Alam is focussed on building a market. “To get the right kind of audience and educate them we need two years at least,” he said. “In five years I’d like to have a brand of sheets. Like right now, I can’t compete with OCB, which is actually fake OCB that everyone’s selling.” Meanwhile he’s making contacts with lawyers and narcotics officers to make sure everything is above-board.
“The day it’s legal, I’ve got a lot of land arranged for cultivation,” Alam said. “I’m working on getting a research certificate on hemp, getting some professors in hand, international researchers also.” He added, “I’m really trying to understand how I can get a hold of a bhang license as well. Imagine, ‘Bhaiya, hybrid bhang dedenge?’” We joked that he'd probably need to find a religious figurehead first. Just a few weeks later, Patanjali announced its plans to get into cannabis research. (And not long before, Tata had invested money in Boheco, a cannabis research company.)
A few months later after I met Alam, I checked in to find out that he had shifted to Dubai to help his father, but remained committed to The Dankville. “We both kinda called it even and hugged,” he emailed to say. Alam now travels to Delhi åbout twice a month for Dankville. He was looking forward to attending the counter-culture CHAMPS Trade Show in Las Vegas, and had a line of hemp clothing in the works. And he was optimistic about the future of weed, mentioning the preliminary response of the Prime Minister’s Office to a petition filed by the Great Legalisation Movement.
“I really feel the day marijuana gets legalised, things are getting better here,” Alam said. “You can check what’s happening in America. These guys are baked. We need to calm down.”