The Bong Show

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

"Marijuana is becoming much more accepted," he says. "And it's a shame, because there are studies that show the use of marijuana among young people had, at one point in time, decreased. But if popular culture displays marijuana use as hip and cool, then I think you're going to see those numbers go the other direction."

While the shops probably don't have to worry, buyers sure do.

It seems lots of folks are mistaking Tempe for the Southwest's answer to Amsterdam's Leidseplein district. All that openness and freedom concerning marijuana . . . Yeah, it's an illusion.

So far this year, Tempe police alone have made more than 900 arrests for drug paraphernalia. None of them was at a head shop. Most of the people arrested were out and about in the pedestrian-friendly city, smoking marijuana in a public place, says Officer Brandon Banks, Tempe PD's spokesman. Usually, police are responding to a person calling about a suspected smoker, he says. If that smoker is still there when the cops show up, it's mug-shot time.

Happens about three times a day.

Almost always, the bust involves a small, portable glass pipe; many cases involve dangerous drugs like meth or crack. Banks says the numbers have been decreasing in the past three years because of street enforcement.

"People finally realize, 'Hey, we shouldn't be using drug paraphernalia," Banks says.

If you are busted for paraphernalia, a cop will likely cite you for two potential felony charges: possession of both the pipe and the marijuana being smoked. As long you plead guilty and agree to a state brainwashing program (drug treatment includes pee tests and anti-drug classes), the charges will be dismissed and you won't have a record. You won't go to prison unless you're the kind who can't stay out of trouble. In 1996, voters banned the government from jailing someone for pot possession until a fourth arrest, provided that person stays clean while on probation.

The message is clear: Leave the pipes and bongs at home, where your chances of getting busted are next to nil.

Watching the dozen or so pipemakers hard at work at the Chameleon Glass factory in North Phoenix, it's hard to believe a war on drugs was ever waged in this country.

Melissa DeNova, 25, has worked in the shop for two years and is going through a glass-blowing apprenticeship. Today, she's wearing her didymium glasses and a purple kerchief as she prepares to make a glass pipe. Holding a glass rod tipped with gold in front of a gas torch, she "fumes" the gold onto another piece of glass, which turns metallic pink. She gives it a twist to make the colors spiral and carefully shapes the pipe's bowl and handle. Using one rod like a pencil, she melts a piece of molten glass into a tiny dragonfly shape. Then she pops a hole in the side of the bowl that will be used for clearing smoke from the implement — one of the hallmarks of a pot pipe.

It's a sweaty job, but it pays well, she says, declining to say exactly what she makes.

"I just love the craft — it's very fun," DeNova says.

The glass factory, owned by Ken Kulow of Phoenix, cranks out hundreds of glass pipes each day, most of which are shipped out of state. The majority of the pipes will retail for less than $50, but they're still nicer than the wood and metal pipes of old. They change color when used — though, as mentioned before, they're all destined to turn brown with resin unless cleaned.

In another nod to Operation Pipe Dream, Kulow says fancy hookahs are made at the shop — but no bongs.

Kulow also owns the two Blaze tobacco accessory stores (you'd call them head shops) in Tempe and Phoenix. He hires glass-blowers to make custom bongs at the stores, but he says those are never sold over state lines.

Kulow explains that, for years, U.S. pipemakers have been helped by restrictions on imports of glass pipes and bongs from India and China. That's slowly changing, but domestic glass blowers still have an edge in part because of demand for high quality, he says.

Glass blowers told New Times that techniques involving borosilicate glass (the substance in Pyrex products) really took off in the 1990s, helping fill a growing demand for nice-looking glass bongs that don't break easily. Bong-making as an art form grew in popularity, but many artists were scared out of the industry after the 2003 raids. That ushered in a new breed of wanna-be scientists/glass blowers who wanted to make bongs work better.

New-style bongs that employ more inner chambers and perforated stems to cool and filter more of the smoke began to show up about three years ago. Supposedly, they allow a user to take a hit that is larger but not as harsh on the lungs.

With the popularity of pharmaceuticals and drugs like Ecstasy on the rise, it's a widespread notion that marijuana's out of fashion among young adults — something old hippies use. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Kulow says college-age people are the biggest buyers of glass accessories, and he notes the local supply of fine paraphernalia has not coincidentally grown right along with ASU. No doubt, the mainstreaming of marijuana culture is not part of ASU President Michael Crow's plan to create a "New American University." But one result of a bigger college has been a major upturn in the number of Tempe head shops.

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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.

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