In the four years since they started selling an all-in-one smoker’s accessory — lighter sleeve, tamper and poker — Colorado entrepreneurs Matt and Leslie Bodenchuk were hitting their stride.
Earlier this week, the married couple were securing prototypes for three new Toker Poker products and hashing out collaboration agreements with a few musical artists interested in hawking the branded smoking accessories at their shows.
Grand Junction-based Toker Poker’s unabashed growth streak — of month-over-month and year-over-year sales gains — showed no signs of slowing.
Then came Wednesday.
Shortly after noon, Colorado’s attorney general and state and federal law enforcement agencies announced they had snuffed out the largest illegal marijuana trafficking ring since recreational pot was legalized in the state, with a grand jury issuing dozens of indictments.
As a good swath of the alleged 62-person crew were family or high school friends who played poker together, investigators dubbed the operation “Toker Poker,” officials told the media.
Matt Bodenchuk’s phone lit up.
A buddy texted him that a huge drug bust was named Toker Poker.
Business partners queried if the Toker Poker business was involved or even the ringleader.
His mother rang with concern, “What in the world are you up to?”
“Mom,” Bodenchuk replied, “I swear I have nothing to do with this.”
Bodenchuk paused the business deals and shifted into crisis containment.
“If you ever looked for Toker Poker online, we were all over the first page of Google,” he said, noting that after numerous media outlets covered Wednesday’s indictments, “we’re down at the bottom of the Google search. I’m not sure how that’s going to affect our sales, but I know it’s going to.”
He’s cutting into money set aside for growth plans and allocating that instead for search-engine optimization improvement and corrective advertising campaigns. That alone, he estimated, could run his business $20,000 to $50,000, not to mention plenty of time and energy.
Earlier Thursday, he popped into a bank to see if he could secure a short-term business loan to help out in the short run.
“I can tell you, I certainly didn’t budget for that,” he said. “(Those growth plans) were really our whole focus. Now, we’re literally scrambling to see how we divert some of that money.”
Bodenchuk also placed a few calls to law enforcement and state officials trying to learn about how it came to be that a code name shares the name of a firm he established in 2010. He left messages with officials requesting they release a clarification that his firm is not involved in the operation.
In an email response to a request by The Cannabist for an interview, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office reiterated that the code name came from the affiliation of the individuals, although it wasn’t mentioned in the indictment documents.
“As we discussed at the press conference yesterday, the operation investigating the drug trafficking organization was nicknamed ‘Operation Toker Poker’ because the defendants are alleged to have been trafficking marijuana, and many of them used to play poker together in high school,” Annie Skinner, communications director for AG Cynthia Coffman, told The Cannabist via email. “There is no nexus between the criminal conduct alleged in our indictment and Mr. Bodenchuk’s company or product, nor have we suggested any.”
Skinner did not respond to follow-up questions.
As for now, Bodenchuk said he’s hopeful this whole situation will blow over, with minimal harm to his business. If the sales and branding hits are deeper than anticipated, that would force him to evaluate his legal options, he said, noting he owns the trademark for Toker Poker.
“Depending on how much this really affects our brand,” he said, “if this is a long-term thing, then I would absolutely look to proceed legally.”
Bodenchuk said he did not have an immediate sense of how the “Operation Toker Poker” media blast affected sales and web traffic — either positively or negatively, he said, adding that he would be evaluating those numbers closely during the coming days.