Corporatization of cannabis has wiped out mom-and-pop head shops


Last weekend, glass aficionados from across the state flocked to the Michigan Glass Project, a festival in Detroit celebrating our state’s unique and robust glassmaking culture, much of which is centered around cannabis. I didn’t get to attend this year, but it still made me nostalgic for the head shops of old.

Remember buying bongs and pipes before medical and recreational weed were legalized? There weren’t nearly as many options to find cannabis accessories back then — there were always a few sketchy gas stations that sold a small selection of foreign-made, mass-produced bowls and plastic bongs, but to find the good stuff, you’d have to venture to a head shop like In Flight Sports, Su Casa Boutique or Krazy Katz, all of which have since gone out of business.

You might be asking yourself, “Why would longstanding head shops go under now?” Cannabis use is growing as the market matures and draws more widespread acceptance.

The answer is the same as what’s plaguing the actual cannabis industry: too many new rich guys joining the party. Legalization has rapidly changed laws and attitudes surrounding cannabis, making the accessory market more attractive to large-scale operators.

In the not-so-distant past, the government was putting people in jail for selling bongs. Even cannabis pioneer Tommy Chong spent time in federal prison for selling bongs and other cannabis accessories online, and that was only 20 years ago. During this time, a lot of deep-pocketed businesses found the cannabis accessory industry to be more trouble than it was worth. Head shops run by weed-loving locals, like your friend’s older brother who smoked you up for the first time and had every live Grateful Dead recording from the 1980s, were some of the only places you could purchase accessories or even acknowledge that cannabis use existed in a society that was in full-on prohibition mode. Retailers walked a fine line, calling the products “novelties” or labeling them “for tobacco use only.”

However, as the legal cannabis market started to grow, the risk became less and less, while the technology and delivery methods of both cannabis and tobacco changed drastically. The vape game really shook things up — as consumers moved from cigarettes to vapes, we saw an influx of vape shops, which soon began to stock cannabis accessories. Large chains like Wild Bill’s have popped up across the state, propped up by increasing vape and cannabis use. At the same time, cannabis dispensaries started to proliferate around the state. These stores also began selling accessories and glass.

The result is that it’s becoming increasingly hard to find locally made glass unless you hit the artist up on social media and arrange it yourself. Mom-and-pop shops have been replaced by corporate chains and corporate cannabis. Before legal cannabis, an entire community and culture existed around the plant. Local glass artists were featured in local head shops, and people took a lot of pride in having nice glass, not just because it was high quality but because they were helping support a local artist. The shops did a good job of educating consumers about what good glass should look like and how it should function. Today, we’ve lost a lot of this knowledge and passion.

Lansing isn’t alone in this issue. In my hometown of Grand Rapids, there are only two mom-and-pop head shops still standing that existed before legalization. As the cannabis industry has grown, it has stomped out local operators from the accessory game. It’s a real shame, and I would encourage consumers to make a deliberate decision to visit a mom-and-pop shop when picking up glass. In the Lansing area, the pickings are slim, but options include Level Up Smoke Shop in Frandor and La Casa Del Rew in Old Town. It’s typically not much more expensive than buying mass-produced glass, and in many cases, you’re supporting someone who held it down as a resource for our community when it was difficult to be involved in cannabis.


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