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High-design weed tech that looks like it's from space

The Puffco Peak and other high-tech tools help legal marijuana flourish in the face of mainstream apprehension.

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This is the Puffco Peak "smart-rig."

Josh Miller/CNET

Every year when I attend the annual CES technology trade show, held each January in Las Vegas, I expect to see plenty of the "unexpected." TVs that curl like snakes, potentially life-saving health tech, talking toilets, maybe a cool dog-robot.

But what I didn't anticipate was leaving Las Vegas most impressed by a slick, high-tech space-vape that looked like something the First Order would smoke out of (if it had one ounce of chill).

Despite being held in "Sin City," where legalized recreational marijuana sales started six months ago, CES 2018 was practically a desert for consumer cannabis tech, unless you went out of your way to find it. However, the few companies that made it to the biggest tech trade show optimistically shed a small light on the cannabis-centered tech thriving in the margins of the mainstream, patiently waiting in the wings for consumers to wake up and smell the weed. 

A radical rig

Puffco made an impression with the Peak, and inspired a timely conversation about the complex public place a concentrate vaporizer occupies at a tech trade show that's caught in the desert crosshairs of federal prohibition and the swiftly developing marijuana industry emerging in Nevada following local legalization.

Peak is the first "smart rig," or at least that's what Puffco is calling it. The creative minds behind the company's award-winning vaporizer pens pivoted to transforming a previously cumbersome (and sometimes dangerous) process into a sleek and streamlined experience. 

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It's as easy to work as a Keurig coffee maker. Simply add water, load the ceramic bowl with the concentrate then cover with the cap, press the (only) button, wait 20 seconds, then inhale from the narrow end of the lava lamp-shaped tube. It has four heat settings that automatically adjust and calibrate for consistent results every draw.

The desktop vaporizer successfully combines elements of existing dab rigs; it's electric, cordless, fully charging via micro-USB in about two hours, and uses water-filtration which helps cool down the smoke.

Peak popularity

The Puffco Peak would look out of place in a typical headshop. Looking more like a "Tron" movie prop with a delicately slim and subtly accenting LED light band around its base, it'd fit in more on the brutalist coffee table of a swanky stoner cafe or an indie magazine editor's home shelf. The only thing that could make it any cooler is if Kendrick Lamar produced a soundtrack for it.

As a safer, streamlined and state-of-the-art way to consume cannabis concentrates, Puffco ambitiously domesticated the dab rig through refined design and is now taking reservations for anyone interested in buying the Peak. Official pricing hasn't been announced, but it's expected to be around $350-$400.

Legal but not equal

In Nevada, legal cannabis consumption is only allowed on private property, and, because the gaming industry is regulated by federal law, tourists shouldn't even think about sparking up on a casino floor.

Las Vegas currently doesn't allow for any type of business that provides a place for people to consume cannabis, like a bar for alcohol. Similarly, cannabis companies that braved CES 2018 skirted tricky conundrums just to be there.

High expectations

Marijuana is often normalized and regularly celebrated in fashion, music, movies and TV, yet it doesn't have the same kind of open acceptance in the tech scene. Weed is still a serious legal risk, even for medical use.

Vapium, a company that specializes in medical vaporizers, also made a quiet CES 2018 appearance. The company showcased its upcoming Smart Flow system, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connected cartridge-based vaporizer with USB-C that measures dosage, frequency, usage and efficacy via app.

The Smart Flow system and Puffco Peak are both technically vaporizers, similar outliers in the broad category of consumer tech. But the two devices couldn't be any more different, and they're made for two very different demographics.

The growing variety of "weed tech" products that range from portable decarboxylation devices, stylish purses that mask the stench of marijuana and oil infusers for cooking, highlight the obvious fact that the cannabis consumer is not a monolith. With or without federal approval, and whether or not the mainstream  -- and CES -- cares to pay attention, the cannabis industry is fearlessly growing up high-tech.

(CNET does not encourage illegal activity. Marijuana usage is an offense under Federal Law, in spite of state marijuana laws. To learn more, click here.)