“Necessity is the mother of invention.” – Plato
The idea for the Toker Poker—like many great ideas in the history of the world—originated in a room thick with cannabis smoke.
Why, asked Matt Bodenchuk, then a college senior, was there never a poker around to clear the bowl?
“My wife, to be honest with you, was probably sick of me and all my friends using her bobby pins and having resin-covered toothpicks floating around the apartment,” recalled Bodenchuk, 32, of Grand Junction, Colorado.
And so, the Toker Poker was born.
Some 350,000 sales later, the simple device has become must-have gear for many cannabis consumers—a lighter cover with a built-in poker, tamper and hemp wick to burn like a candle.
But if the name rings a familiar bell, it could be for a much darker reason: Earlier this summer, authorities in Colorado announced 74 indictments in the largest cannabis bust in the state since legalization. Some 2,600 plants and 4,000 pounds of cannabis were seized. The name of the investigation: “Operation Toker Poker.”
“How come nobody has put a poker and a little tamper on a lighter? Because everyone needs one.”
Matt Bodenchuk and his wife (at the time his girlfriend) Leslie played sports in college and used cannabis to relax and help recover from the physical pain of competition.
After the “a-ha” moment of inspiration that launched the Toker Poker, the couple sat around the kitchen one night and played with ways to use acrylic paint molds to create a lighter case with a poker attached.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘This is simple. Why is there nothing like this out there? How come nobody has put a poker and a little tamper on a lighter?'” he said. “Because everyone needs one. It was that moment of truth, that we may have stumbled on something that could be a big game-changer in the industry.”
Matt and Leslie made some for friends and themselves, and they soon realized how essential having a handy poker and tamper had become. Maybe they’d be camping or skiing and trying to use sticks to clear the bowl. Then the stick breaks and gets stuck in the bowl and you have to burn it.
If you didn’t have the Toker Poker on you, said Bodenchuk, you missed it.
Production on a large scale began in 2013, and they were selling the Toker Poker in stores the following year. Then, in May 2014, though his wife was due to give birth any day, Bodenchuk quit his day job to focus on the Toker Poker.
In poker parlance, he was “all-in” now.
“We took a complete leap of faith with really no other income than the Toker Poker and struggled, got by and dumped everything else into the business,” said Bodenchuk.
By this year, they’d sold so many units that Bodenchuk finally felt financially secure enough to consider launching new products.
Then, on what had been a normal June Wednesday, a buddy texted him about a story that was making news in Denver.
“I’m not sure it’s good, but your name is out there,” the friend said.
His mother called. Business partners called. Was he involved with this?
The situation at hand was the aforementioned police bust that had nothing to do with Bodenchuk or his business. Authorities regularly look for clever names to generate headlines with big operations, and someone chose “Toker Poker,” allegedly due to some of the suspects knowing one another from poker games.
That was little comfort to Bodenchuk when suddenly his website was blown way down on Google, and sales began to dip.
“I was definitely angry when the news first broke, Bodenchuk said. “It’s like, ‘Really, Denver PD? Come on. Why did you choose this name? What’s going on?'”
By mid-July, sales had recovered, and his website was again the top Google hit. But he doesn’t buy the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
“When you wake up and realize 74 indictments, one of the largest pot busts in the history of the state, thousands of pounds of cannabis being illegally sold all around the country . . . when you find out all of that is summed up and tied with your company, I don’t think there’s anything positive to come with that.”
He holds the trademark to Toker Poker and could seek legal action, but doubts it will come to that. He’s just counting on the ordeal to blow over.
In the meantime, the husband-wife team (they have a few other employees and outsource production to Asia) is busy at work on the next innovations for the company. As of this interview he wasn’t at liberty to divulge what’s next, but promised new products would be coming out soon.