History of a head shop

A head shop is named after the client base, not the wares. It's a store that functions to serve pot heads (hence the name) with a place to pick up their nefarious accessories. I work at Puff on Robson street. It's the store upstairs, down the grey encrusted hallway next to a buzzing tattoo shop, the one carrying pipes and bongs equipped with the newest advancements in water cooling technology – thousand dollar pieces infused with diffuser stems inside external horizontal water chambers, and glass-on-glass multi-chamber bongs with internal tree perculators and an ice pinch, all blown on glass lathes from chemically hardened Pyrex. Maybe you asked the clerk where to find some “herb” because your dealer downtown moved away. Perhaps you went in with your giggly friends and commented that the store always smells like “pot”. Nope, that's incense, poser.

Not that I don't sympathize with posers. Actually, I'm the biggest poser ever. Never a fan of the 'stoner' image one might accrue by working at a head shop, I, the store clerk at Puff, gave up smoking marijuana years ago. I wanted to pursue athletics and better grades (or something) but I ended up with a cigarette addiction and the same lousy marks. Draw whatever conclusions you like.

During high school, I smoked marijuana regularly. Don't act like you never tried it during lunch break. However, the weed itself was never a huge point of interest for me. I never had a subscription to High Times or an article of clothing adorned with pot leaves. The point I'm trying to illustrate is that I never actively sought out a place at Puff for its association with marijuana. Four years ago I moved to Vancouver looking for a job, and was thrown haphazardly into stoner culture. I happened to know the owner of the Puff franchise; he needed another employee at the distribution warehouse and offered me a job. I eventually settled into my current retail position, selling smokers the wide variety of tools they need to get the job done.

One of the things I love about working at Puff, though, is how the stoner connotation is constantly being turned on its head. Professionals, academics and other hard working people come in to the store to buy smoking accessories all the time. I am often reminded that the dirty, unemployable, stoner is nothing more than a stereotype. Users are just as often clean, friendly and articulate. Marijuana isn't a problem for everyone, and 'functional smokers' make up a considerable portion of the client base.

If you are a regular customer, you may notice some not-so-subtle changes, not only at Puff but at other head shops as well. Since last summer, legislative changes have deemed it necessary to hide all tobacco products from sight. In the near future, 'blunt' wraps and flavoured rolling papers will be phased out altogether, as they have been deemed to encourage children to experiment with smoking. Although head shops and smoke shops now hide their papers and blunts from the customer, Puff still proudly displays their pipes and bongs. Rather than marketing smoking accessories for tobacco or illicit substances, head shops work around these restrictions by advertising the gear toward the smoking of herbal shisha.

Such lenience, however, is not afforded in the USA. In its infancy, the Puff franchise also dealt in the States. That is, until the Feds let the founders know they were under investigation for dealing paraphernalia. The shareholders became anxious to jump ship, and the sole remaining owner decided it prudent to deal exclusively in Canada. Vancouver's very own Tommy Chong illustrates the repercussions of selling pipes in the US. Chong Glass, which was started in Paris of all places, dealt pipes and bongs online. Life imitates art, as Tommy Chong was fined $20,000 and sentenced to nine months in a sweaty Californian prison.

These forced adaptations provide a lens into an important but understated issue. The reality of BC's smoker culture is not some kind of Cheech and Chong cliché – it’s a 7 billion dollar industry that services all segments of society, and let’s face it, Canada's 'war on drugs' is ramping up. Politically driven legislation, increasing penalties and the imposition of 'mandatory minimum' sentences for drug possession, is currently being pursued by the Conservative government. How will this affect marijuana in Vancouver, known to be the new Amsterdam of permissive puffing? Find out next time, you stoned bastards.

//Marco Ferreira


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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com