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European pot site puts launch on back burner

The launch of iToke, an Internet start-up that plans to deliver marijuana in Amsterdam, is delayed by negative sentiment from some local coffee shop owners and frenzied press requests.

Internet start-up iToke planned to start delivering marijuana in Amsterdam today, but the launch was delayed by negative sentiment from some local coffee shop owners and frenzied press requests.

"We felt there was an impending media circus and some recent misperceptions regarding iToke's goals and business model," Tim Freccia, iToke's co-founder, said in a phone interview from his boat near Barcelona.

Freccia said some coffee shop owners, who run the only businesses authorized to sell marijuana in Holland, see iToke as a threat to the status quo and dislike the fanfare surrounding the company.

"We're not in Amsterdam to 'Amazonify' pot," said Freccia, an American who co-founded iToke with Mike Tucker, both from Seattle, Wash. "We're just there to get along with everybody and to put a happy face on pot.

"But it's not like the nation of Holland is against us. We just need to cool off and then allay fears from the existing community that we would be any threat to them," he said.

Freccia said they have been overwhelmed by press requests since announcing their plans to take orders for pot from WAP-enabled phones and the Internet. The two former media professionals were worried about news crews bombarding customers and operations on their first day.

Rumors have zinged around Europe about iToke, including one in Germany that the company is a media hoax, Freccia said. But the weightiest myth to dispel for Freccia is that the company is extinguished.

"We're not 'up in smoke,'" he said, adding that iToke supporters outweigh its naysayers. "We didn't get busted out of Amsterdam."

He said the company plans to move forward despite its missed launch date, with plans to install kiosks throughout Amsterdam, where customers can buy prepaid and rechargeable cards, called iTokens. Bike couriers, who may just be Freccia and Tucker, will read the unique ID of each card via handheld devices at the time of delivery.

Customers can set up an anonymous profile on the iToke site through their phone or Web browser, then order up to 2 grams of pot (worth about 20 euros or about $17) from the site to be delivered within 30 minutes.

But interest for its service came from many other than Dutch residents.

"We got mail from all over the planet asking us to send us weed. But we're just not going to deliver weed to Washington, D.C., because we can't--that's obvious," he said. The co-founders have said they plan to test their business only within current legal limits.

Friends as teenagers, Tucker and Freccia started the enterprise in hopes that they would give pot's image "a face-lift," a feat that Freccia said they've achieved.

"We've cleaned up the image of pot culture; it's no longer some hacky-sack-kicking, hippy weirdo thing. We've proved that there's a tremendous market for iToke."

He said the company's goal is to use Amsterdam as a springboard for illustrating the benefits of marijuana for communities and local authorities. "We're not trying to take over Amsterdam."

The two men, who have built the business with their own money, are also in financial negotiations to open up iTokeos, or stylish cafes, on the West Coast of the United States. Although Freccia wouldn't say where or when they would open, he said they're designed for a mid-30s crowd and center on an idea rather than coffee or bagels.

"An iTokeo will be a nonrestrictive and positive and light place; it's different than coffee shops in Amsterdam that are dark and dirty places," Freccia said.

"A group of software execs wouldn't be comfortable going to a coffee shop in Amsterdam, or for that matter a Planet Hollywood, because they're cheesey. This is an alternative solution for all these things. It's a place where you feel a sense of community."

iToke never heard from the government before its expected debut. But the idea of delivering goods in teeming streets of camera crews and club-wielding coffee shop owners could dampen even the most polished outfit.

"We want our market to trust us and love us first. Then we move on to logistics of operations," Freccia said.

"This is something that is going to happen, and it's going to happen soon. What we won't do is release a date, because that turned around to bite us," he said.