The Bong Show

Pay $1,200 for a water pipe? Are you high?

Those in the know say the market for nice glassware for stoners has been growing since the mid-'90s, especially in California and the Northwest, and for a host of reasons, has taken off in recent years in the Valley. Not every smoker uses expensive paraphernalia, of course, but the demand is enormous, judging from the number of stores in metro Phoenix that sell the stuff.

In Tempe, a college town that has long been the area's ground zero for head shops, competition among bong sellers has never been higher. At least five new head shops have opened in the college town in the past three years, with three specializing in high-end merchandise. Veteran stores like Trails, Hippie Gypsy, the Headquarters, and the Graffiti Shop, meanwhile, don't appear to be hurting.

It's a business success story that's making aspiring artists like Lynch — not to mention fashionable, well-to-do stoners — very happy, indeed.

Pricey, high-quality bongs line the shelves at numerous Valley head shops.
Tony Blei
Pricey, high-quality bongs line the shelves at numerous Valley head shops.
Metallic sparkles and swirls define this bong by Darby, a glass blower from Oregon.
Tony Blei
Metallic sparkles and swirls define this bong by Darby, a glass blower from Oregon.

"Most people [in the business] would agree this is a genuine American movement. It's a revolution," Lynch says. "We've created an industry where there wasn't one before."


Selling bongs for hundreds of dollars apiece seems wrong on so many levels.

To begin with, there's the image of wastoids stumbling among intricate, high-priced pieces of fragile glassware — disaster waiting to happen. And unless the stoner who owns such a work of art is meticulous about cleaning it, the sticky, brown resin left from smoking will soon destroy any beauty it once had. It's a safe bet that there are more filthy expensive glass bongs in the Valley than clean ones.

From a practical standpoint, an expensive water pipe is about as logical as a Kate Spade handbag. Bongs are little more than lonely hookahs, which also filter smoke through water, but hookahs — which have been used for centuries to smoke tobacco, hashish, and opium — have multiple mouthpieces that allow several people to inhale at the same time. Bongs have just one. They're simple devices. For just pennies, one can be built by using any small, plastic container. And it will get the job done, arguably just as well as a something that costs $1,000.

Then there's the law. Collectors of bongs, unlike collectors of, say, bronze cowboy sculptures, presumably have to be careful about how they show off their favorite pieces, and to whom. Owning a pot pipe or bong, once it's been used to smoke illegal drugs, is a felony in Arizona. So is possession of any amount of marijuana, making Arizona one of the harshest anti-pot states in the country.

Whether used or not, bongs are illegal to sell under federal law, and violators can be punished with up to three years in prison. Theoretically, head shops can be raided by federal agents at any time.

Thirty-seven years after the founding of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, the way America approaches the issue of marijuana and the tools used to smoke it is still something of a paradox.

Each year, local, state, and federal authorities spend billions of dollars to arrest and jail marijuana offenders. FBI statistics show that record numbers of people are getting busted for simple marijuana possession in the United States — nearly 700,000 in 2005. (The 2006 numbers come out next month).

All that enforcement, yet marijuana is embedded in our culture like never before. More than 40 percent of Americans age 12 and up, including authority figures like the current governors of Arizona and California, have tried it. Music laden with pro-pot lyrics is hardly edgy anymore. Nor is it shocking these days in Phoenix to see a preteen wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a giant pot leaf. Television shows depict more characters than ever smoking pot casually, as if they were drinking a beer. Bong hits are de rigueur for the characters on HBO's Entourage. One recent episode featured characters Drama and Turtle figuring out a way to score highly potent medical marijuana, which they fire up in a bubbler.

The word bong (which allegedly comes from the Thai "baung," meaning a short pipe cut from a piece of bamboo), may have become even more of a household word by now, thanks to a major freedom of speech case concluded in late June by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the justices decided that a school principal was within her rights to suspend a student for displaying a banner with the phrase "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," even though the display wasn't on school property.

For some of today's marijuana smokers, an expensive, arty water pipe symbolizes a new, more open age. The devices are a way of announcing: "I smoke pot, and I'm proud of it."

"I put mine on top of the entertainment center," says an owner of a $280 bong. "I like to show it off."

On a macroeconomic level, stoners are doing the same thing as many other Americans — seeking an identity through luxury goods. Academics have noted in the past few years that middle-class citizens, for a bunch of reasons, are indulging in more and more high-end purchases. Everyone craves a taste of the good life these days, and stores are responding with more products over which people can obsess. For some, it's the occasional ultra-prime cut of steak or the latest digital doodad.

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11 comments
Frank Baum
Frank Baum

I worked radio i '78-79 when the marijuana tax stamp was in effect. Legal ownership. A $29 fine if not stamp existed. That separated marijuana buyers from the dangerous materials suppliers. Marijuana was NOT on the "problems" list of the police UNTIL the end of the tax stamp program which placed buyers in "impulse buy" situations. The end of the Tax stamp program can be shown by analysis to have INCREASED use of other "problem" substances as known in Emergency room-Law enforcement related public records. Legislators would do well for the public good to think less of pep rally cries and pay more attention to the medical and scientific facts paired with records analysis echoing summarization done in 1978 by a Federal Commission studying world social impacts of marijuana use which recommended opening the 1938 Tax statute-promised tax offices and OTC sale of marijuana. Medical prescription ability will find many of the nay-sayers of today themselves benefitting from prescription of a non-synergistic, non-potentiator therapeutic agent so effective in managing pain, stress, and sleeplessness.

Its all goodz
Its all goodz

Its an honer to be able to represent all the great American glass artist pushing the median to the next level,although its just a BONG or a PIPE!!Who ever said "That Ain't Art"!! Needs to get high!

GOODZ
GOODZ

I think the article was more political,than about the artist and how this art form is evolving into next generation.Sometimes the writer looks for controversy instead of the true since story.Like if everybody doesn't know the hypocritical smoke shop lingo rules!Magazine writers try to be sensational instead of informative and interesting.This story could have had a different ring, but where's the twist?The dam government!!

Colin
Colin

Thanks a lot for this article. Anyone saying "an article about bongs?" or "isn't this stuff illegal" shouldn't comment, this section is for people who READ THE ARTICLE. Go regurgitate your propaganda elsewhere.

whatever
whatever

Bongs? This rag has nothing better to write about? I look to the New Times for the stories that the Az Republic will not publish. Information. Not crap like this. I feel like someone stole time from me and I can only get it back by taking up your time with this response.

helentroy4
helentroy4

Isn't this what Tommy Chong went to prison for? Selling "paraphenalia?"

Amsterdamer
Amsterdamer

All I know is that some of the pieces I see at It's All Goodz are amazing! And to be able to watch the glass blowers do their work is really cool. If I had the money I would buy that spaceship piece at the start of the story!

Henry Anslinger
Henry Anslinger

People need to learn to tolerate other people's lifestyles more. If others enjoy doing it and you don't, well then don't do it. But don't tell other people what they can and cannot do.

There are plenty of people that use it for medical reasons, and although the article doesn't allude to it, you can bypass most of the harmful toxins by using a vaporizer or ingesting the cannabis through food.

Cannabis is amount the most benign "illicit" drug you'll ever find. No one in the history of mankind has ever died from the stuff. In fact, in many countries, elderly attribute their long lives to the drug.

getagrip
getagrip

Why don't these smokers realize high school is over....its not even healthy for anyone first off, and second, hello...its illegal, whether anyone thinks the government is stupid, or that it will be legalized "any day now", it won't be so grow up already!!

The Pipester
The Pipester

Good story! I love a paper that can tell it like it is. Thanks New Times. Pot > gonverment stupidity.

 
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