The Bong Show

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

His friend Bill comes over, toting a tall bong in a carrying case. He also works in a head shop and likes to chat about the benefits of glass over plastic, water filtration over raw smoke. They're both in their early 20s, and they say they've been smoking for years, often daily.

"The fact that it's illegal is the only thing keeping this from becoming a full-blown hobby for me," Bill says.

But pot has its downsides. Bill says it's one reason his college plans are stalled (he hopes to get back on track one way or another). He's having fun in the meantime. Bill and Tom say they like to get buzzed and relax, play video games, or go to action movies.

"Did you see 300?" Bill asks Tom with a knowing smile.

"I saw 300," Tom says, nodding happily, leaving the obvious part unspoken — they watched it waaaaasted.

Mike came to a Tempe head shop last month to pick up his $280 orange "chalice," which was in for repairs. He says he graduated a couple of years ago from Arizona State University with a degree in biology, and he admits to using marijuana for years. He seems sober and well-spoken. He's a little weird. He says he spends hours at home, sometimes, cleaning his collection of glass pipes. He's built about 30 little pipe reamers out of paper clips and coat hangers, each designed to clean a particular pipe.

He hasn't used his chalice in months, and was excited to smoke out of it. The top two feet of the glass bong's main tube is curved to allow its user to sit back and relax while taking a hit. Unique bongs like his are attention-grabbers and contribute to the more social side of marijuana use. Mike says his chalice is part of his living room décor, which makes sense because it's often in use.

"Everyone wants to see it and try it," he says.

Mike says he has no illusions — he checks the peephole for cops before opening the front door. But he claims the gaudy bong makes him feel like pot-smoking is more accepted by the wider world, that appreciation for good pot and good bongs is a respectable aspect of overall Valley culture — especially among his college friends.

"We're not hiding," he says.

Every few weeks, a head shop will get a phone call, or maybe some dorky dude will drop in. That person will want to talk about bongs, and he will want to talk about smoking weed in them.

"There are two types of people who talk like that," says one store's employee. "Cops and idiots."

That's why owners and employees of head shops are programmed to insist that the glass pipes and bongs sold at the dozens of head shops in the Valley are tobacco accessories. They could be prosecuted if someone could prove they knew their products would be used for smoking marijuana or another illegal drug.

Yet, of course, that's exactly what the products are used for. Nobody uses a bong or a glass pipe to smoke tobacco, except maybe a bored stoner.

For years, head shops have walked a fine legal line, and for decades in Arizona, there's been no real trouble.

In the head shop rumor mill, people believe the shops have had political protection. That's because the biggest chain of head shops in Arizona, Trails, is owned by Arthur Kruglick, whose father, Burt Kruglick, was once a big player in the state's Republican Party. But it's debatable whether the elder Kruglick — a man in his 80s who, last year, left his post as the Arizona Racing Commissioner — ever had or used any such power. Arthur Kruglick declined to comment for this article.

Another rumor says that, perhaps because of the growing indiscretion of head shops, some kind of law enforcement action may be on the horizon.

Robert Vaughn, a Tennessee lawyer considered a national expert on paraphernalia, compares the federal law on bongs to pornography statutes: Bongs are illegal, but enforcement is based on community standards.

Bong manufacturers who ship their products out of state are at greater risk to be busted because the community standard where the products end up could be much different from that where they're made. Pennsylvania and Iowa, in particular, have a bent against bongs and helped orchestrate raids of paraphernalia-makers across the country in 2000 and 2003.

Operation Pipe Dream in 2003, the nation's most recent major paraphernalia bust, swept up comedian Tommy Chong, who served nine months in federal prison for selling bongs on the Internet. Fifty people were arrested, including three who ran a glass pipe-making shop in Phoenix called Stone Artworx.

At the time, local store owners worried they would be next. But, you could say, business is really smokin' again these days.

Operation Pipe Dream taught head shop owners and paraphernalia-makers to be more careful about sales on the Internet, where it's difficult to enforce the over-18 age requirement to buy smoking accessories.

The federal government likely won't do anything about head shops in the foreseeable future, says former Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton. That doesn't mean he and others who believe marijuana is harmful enjoy seeing bongs sitting unscathed on store shelves.

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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!


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!!


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.


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.


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


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.


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.