The plight of the pot smoker has been a slow one. Depending on where you live, stoners have been on the defensive ever since that first puff: first from parents, then county cops, then your District Attorney. This April, Denver’s Black Book Gallery is giving us a lesson in weed smoking history through the bubblers and bongs of the country’s greatest glass blowing artists. Back To the Future Vol. 1 is just the first installment of a series of exhibitions at Black Book that will explore the history of glassblowing. In addition to referencing one of the greatest-things-you-can-watch-while-blitzed ever, the title of the show describes a chapter in the history of glassblowing that could “change the entire culture of pipe making, the artists and their futures,” according to Black Book Gallery.
13 years ago, the U.S Government turned a precarious interpretation of a federal statute into a full fledged war on the paraphernalia industry. Under the pretense of public interest, February 24th, 2003 gave birth to ”Operation Pipe Dreams” (OPD), a campaign which organized systematic raids by the U.S Government on areas producing and distributing drug-related tools—especially those associated with marijuana consumption. The OPD campaign was streamlined by then-U.S attorney General John Ashcroft in an effort to slow down the ‘illegal’ paraphernalia from creeping into our homes. “With the advent of the internet, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has exploded,” Ashcroft said. “The drug paraphernalia business is now accessible in anyone’s home with a computer and Internet access. And in homes across America we know that children and young adults are the fastest growing internet users.” Thanks, John.
According to Black Book Gallery, over 50 people, including head shop owners, pipe makers, and sellers from across the country, were indicted on charges of conspiring to traffic drug paraphernalia.
In an extra-dramatic attempt to grab the attention of the American public, the OPD team even went after comedian, actor, entrepreneur, and notorious activist Tommy Chong. Chong was charged for his role in promoting and financing Chong Glass/Nice Dreams, an online pipe distribution company he started with his son, Paris. A lot of people targeted went on to pay fines and serve home detention, but Chong was sentenced to 9 months in prison on top of a litany of fines and property seizures.
But all this mayhem didn't stop pot pioneers—as is the case with every war on items, they simply moved underground. Artists and enthusiasts continued to make glass and drive the pot and pipe making culture into the future. “For many artists it would spark a new level of creativity and desire to push the boundaries of pipe making into functional pieces of art, in their eyes the phrase 'drug paraphernalia' would no longer be applied to their work,” writes the Black Book Gallery. Now, it was personal. Now, it was art.
The Back To The Future Vol. 1 exhibit at the Black Book Gallery features works on display, old and new, from a diverse groups of artists that have not only contributed greatly to the art of glass making, but have been directly affected by the OPD campaign. Art Director of the Ruckus Gallery, and curator of the show, Terasina Bonanini, gathered together an eclectic group of talents for the common goal of further pushing the art form making it a more accepted medium in the realm of personal and cultural expression.
So on this beautiful 4/20, take a good, hard look at your favorite piece. It's come a long way.
Check out some images from the show below:
Head over to the Black Book Gallery’s website for more information about the show.