Just don’t say the “B” word

There are words in the English language that, upon uttering, can and will offend many in our society. These words are taboo, and will send a soccer mom running to cover her precious childrens’ ears. They generally deal with either fornication or some form of bodily excrement, and the list is fairly consensual.
But in some stores in Athens, there is another word to add to that list.
Athens supports a very large and vibrant stoner community. For many stoners, college is their first time away from home, their first chance to branch out from the years of smoking joints discreetly in public places. Toking can be taken in to the living room, and pipes become something to be cherished.
With this new emphasis on nicer, prettier glass smoking pieces, Athens has developed a diverse array of “head shops,” shops that sells all the toys a stoner might need. From cheap metal pipes to intricately massive bongs, from rolling papers to incense, the local head shop is a boutique catering to a smoker’s wants and desires.
Just don’t mention that to the head shop itself.
Despite the stoner-friendly atmosphere, “smoke shops,” as they preferred to be called, have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to marijuana.
“We sell tobacco pipes and accessories,” says one of the shopkeepers at 42 Degrees. The shop, whose cleverly designed “42°” sign hints at the true “4/20” nature of the wares, is an anchor of downtown. They support local jam bands, and, along with pipes, sell hand drums and disc golf accessories. Yet mention anything related to that wacky reefer, and you’re out of the store.
“It’s just store policy,” says the shopkeeper, who even refused to be identified for this article. “I really can’t say anything more about it that that.”
42 Degrees isn’t alone in this policy. Modern Age tobacco, which proudly displays the Grateful Dead dancing bears on the front of their building, has the same policy.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the shopkeeper at Modern Age, who also refused to be identified for this article.
Though every clerk I talked to refused to be identified, not all of them were quite so tight-lipped.
“It’s a policy created out of fear,” said the clerk trying to sell me a pipe at Southern Video, one of many adult toy-slash-head shops in town. “It’s kind of a gray area of the law, and nobody wants to disrupt the balance.”
Despite this fear, not a single head shop employee I talked to had had any sort of issue with police officers because of the shop. Many stores even sell kits specially designed to help the user pass a urinalysis test.
“People are pretty well behaved,” said one of the clerks at 42 Degrees. “Every now and then somebody will say something too much, and we have to ask them to leave. But I’ve never heard of any sort of undercover sting.”
Not every town is so quite so tolerant of its head shops. Under federal law, the pipes in head shops are considered drug paraphernalia, despite shops insistence otherwise. In October of 2008, the mayor of Key West, Fl., with the support of the local district attorney, arranged a series of federal raids on head shops in his community.
The feds carted off everything that could possibly be related to marijuana, from bongs and rolling papers to more innocent things like lighters and ash trays. They also seized the stores financial records, including credit card receipts, creating a database on people who have purchased “drug paraphernalia” in Key West.
Nobody was charged with a crime, despite the fact that 11,920 items were seized, with an estimated value of $750,000.
The don’t-ask don’t tell policy continues, even in a progressive safe haven such as Athens. For the customer facing a tragedy of a broken piece, if you’ve smoked marijuana out of that pipe, you’re out of luck.
“Even if they bought it from us, if it looks like anything’s been smoked out of it, you can’t bring it in here. We’re just trying to play by the rules.”
Words can be very powerful, but it is up to society to assign the power associated with these words. Next time you’re in 42 Degrees, or any number of head shops around Athens, remember to choose your words carefully. That double-filtered $300 bong with the trippy design that you’ve had your eye on for months, that you saved your pennies and came to use your birthday discount on, isn’t a bong at all. Those bright colors and intricate designs are meant for tobacco, and as far as your local head shop is concerned, nothing else.


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