Weed Paraphernalia: The Rolling Paper Revue - Rolling Stone
Home Culture Culture News

Weed Paraphernalia: The Rolling Paper Revue

The past, present and future of the paraphernalia industry — and the weed that made it possible

shop, pot, smoking paraphernaliashop, pot, smoking paraphernalia

A shop selling pot smoking paraphernalia and 'legal highs' in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 6th,1978.

Barbara Alper/Getty

Welcome to the mod Olympics, officially known as the 13th National Fashion and Boutique Show. Here at the New York Coliseum, there are more gold medallions and open shirts than anywhere east of Los Angeles; a thousand merchandisers are pressing the flesh; half-clad go-go dancers are hyping clothes; orders are being written for everything from belt buckles to women’s tops.

Scattered through the garment district like patches on jeans are two score manufacturers and distributors of a different line of products. There’s Burt Rubin’s E-Z Wider from New York, Oat Willie’s Department Store from Austin and the House of Ripps from Yonkers, Cooleaf from Massachusetts and Berney-Karp, a bong and pipe manufacturer from Los Angeles. They’re here to sell a paradox called paraphernalia, legal products used to hold, roll, burn, clean, test, weigh and store $4 billion worth of illegal marijuana each year.

On the third floor, just a few aisles from the escalators, the Adam’s Apple Distributing Company of Chicago has spent $5,000 to camp in booths 3210, 3212 and 3214. The booths are decorated in the bright blues, reds and yellows of the Societé Job, the giant French manufacturer of cigarette filters whose rolling papers are exclusively distributed in the U.S. by Adam’s Apple. The salespeople from the 50-strong staff that works for 28-year-old Don Levin are all young, but the smiling visage of beret-wearing Jean Bardou, the “Man from Job” (played by Jake Levin, Don’s father) who invented the rolling-paper-booklet machine in 1835, provides an air of maturity as it peers down from posters and packaging.

Adam’s Apple’s $10 million volume makes it the biggest pure paraphernalia business in an industry that grosses anywhere from $150 million to $250 million a year by selling, among other things, more than 160 million booklets of rolling paper annually. Its 52-page, four-color catalog is shimmeringly modern but, looking at it, something suggests the song “There Is Nothing like a Dame,” from the Fifties show South Pacific. This time around, though, the words are a little different:

It’s got papers, it’s got bongs/ It’s got chillums, it’s got masks/ It’s got pipes of acrylic, and wood and glass and brass/ It’s got spoons, stashes and snorters, and testing kits for coke/ What ain’t it got? It ain’t got dope!

A flight up from Adam’s Apple, in the half of booth 4220 rented by Head Imports of Aspen, Colorado, a staff of one full-time and one part-time employee is trying to market One-and-a-Half rolling papers. But the paper that 35-year-old George Sells manufactures hasn’t arrived, and he’s decided against displaying the pocket scale and the extra-long Esmeralda papers that complete Head Imports’ inventory. Instead, he’ll spend the day admiring the scrimshaw display in the other half of the booth.

But at booth 3933, there’s constant low-key activity around the folks from High Times magazine, who are handing out engraved invitations to a big party at a local disco called Vamps. Since debuting in 1974, High Times has grown from a small-circulation doper’s digest into a nationally distributed monthly which broadcasts drug prices and outlaws’ tales to 400,000-plus purchasers. And they’ve just unveiled Dealer, a monthly trade publication which they hope 15,000 or so merchants will patronize.

A $1.50’s worth, one issue, of High Times gives you articles on smuggling in the merchant marine and nitrous oxide and a color centerfold display of primo Mexican pot. The same $1.50 spent on Dealer tells you how to “work” rolling papers, as opposed to how to “use” them, and how to get an ad for them on the radio; the color centerfold is devoted to various lines of T-shirts. Guess which magazine’s planning an article called “In-Store Security: 25 Ways to Protect Your Profits”?

Tonight’s Dealer party will be a big success. Several hundred conventioneers will cram into Vamps to party down on Dealer. If the musical Hustle subsides and the merchants-of-hip talk shop, they’ll be sure to discuss both. Don Levin and George Sells. In fact, if they decide to hold some kind of election for officers of their class of ’76, Levin will be voted Most Likely to Succeed, and Sells, Class Historian.

Herein lies a story.

George Sells and a partner named Jim Lato opened Headland, one of the first retail stores in the country to concentrate on pipes, papers and paraphernalia, in Chicago on April Fool’s Day, 1967.

“Our first customer came in before we were open,” Sells recalled. “A cabdriver. I’ve bumped into him several times since then, but he doesn’t realize how important he was to me.

“He had this Panama Red. He came into the store and said, ‘Do you get high?’

“I said, ‘Sure.’

“He went back to the door and he locked it. He said, ‘Take three hits and no more.’

“So I took seven hits. I didn’t know, man.

“He took his two or three hits and went and drove his cab. I took seven wallopers and walked out to the front of the store and fell down the wall to the floor. Six hours I was flat on the floor, leaning against the wall. People would come in and buy and I couldn’t get up! I couldn’t talk! I’d tell people where the money was and where the key was for the locks to the cabinet, and they’d go and take what they wanted, and they’d go over and make change.”

Headland was a hole-in-the-wall paradise located on Wells Street, at the south end of Chicago’s version of Haight Street. It had a bulletin board for wandering hippies, and Sells’ Labrador retriever, Clarence, wasn’t the only creature on acid. Stoned customers delighted in spreading their arms to touch both walls at once; Sells delighted in no longer working as a market researcher.

Business was both easy (living well on $50 a week) and hard (steering clear of the “narcs” long enough to discover paraphernalia more durable than folded matchbook roach holders and aluminum-foil-and-thimble pipes). “At that time there was no paraphernalia to buy. We’d buy Oriental hash pipes. The Oriental cigarette holder. Korea made a little bamboo pipe. We’d sell incense. We’d sell straight-people pipes, corncob pipes. We’d sell bizarre brands of cigarette paper. It was hard to fill the showcase.”

Headland was a “community store,” organizing Be-Ins and helping the Seed, an underground paper. But after the violence surrounding the ’68 Democratic convention, Sells “ran away. I went to India. I went to the Maharishi’s crash pad. I ran to Aspen.”

In Aspen, Sells ran Head Imports, which was divided into a wholesale importing business and a new retail store in Chicago. The second store was on the site of what is now Dirty Dan’s Saloon, an eatery where Sells and I paused for some burgers and beer.

As he sat across the table, Sells’ words began to belie his impishly pointed red beard and the yellow Head Imports T-shirt with a picture of underground cartoon character Snappy Sammy Smoot on it. He recalled the time when Head Imports’ dressing room was where the bar’s TV now stood, and print bedspreads from India hung over our table. It wasn’t a pleasant memory.

“It was easy to rip me off,” he said, describing his absentee ownership. “‘We need a pipe!’ Boom! ‘Look at that nice ring!’ Boom! Bedspreads — I lost a fortune in bedspreads. I went to an employee’s house — and I had furnished it! He had covered his walls and his ceilings with my bedspreads. And then, when I laid him off when things got tough and he came to me for a few hundred to make it through, I said, ‘I can’t afford it. I’m already down 40 grand.’ And he was pissed!”

Sells closed Head Imports in late 1970. By that time, he’d firmly settled into a high-altitude Aspen lifestyle. “I like to travel,” he explained. “If you travel, you import. So I started importing.”

Sells became a full-time paper-chaser. As the Age of Aquarius bloomed, the paper-chasers saw a market for specially made rolling papers. After being rebuffed by U.S. manufacturers like Kimberly-Clark and Olin-Illinois, who frowned on producing small orders for a bunch of seeming hippies, they scored with more willing manufacturers in Europe.

In Europe, the paper-chasers learned about bursting, tensile and tear strengths, paper porosity, carbonate and pulp contents. They learned that “rice paper” was only a fond memory and that rolling paper was usually made of wood pulp, which was cheap, or flax fiber, which burned better. Their rejection in America turned out to be a disguised blessing: paper designed for use with tobacco burns all too rapidly for less mainstream needs.

The paper-chasers took their street smarts to Europe, and came up with wider papers for pot smokers tired of sticking two papers together. They commissioned bizarre FM commercials, exotic packaging, Frisbee and hang-gliding promotional campaigns. Eventually they forced the older U.S. companies to follow their lead: over the past two years, Zig-Zag, the rolling paper on which untold numbers of hand-rollers were weaned, has introduced medium- and double-wide papers into the United States to meet the inroads of E-Z Wider. “Our philosophy has been not to advertise Zig-Zag,” said Barry Nova, director of communications for U.S. Tobacco, the $148 million-a-year conglomerate that distributes $4.5 million worth of Zig-Zag a year on this side of the Atlantic. “But,” he said coyly, “the roll-your-own market is growing,” and added that the company may actively promote the paper in months to come.

Most important, the paper-chasers learned that, while there was a worldwide surplus of paper suitable for their needs, their real problem was getting access to the cranky, Rube Goldberg-style machines which take large, gummed rolls of paper, cut, crease and interweave them, insert pieces of cardboard between every 24 or 32 leaves, wrap the paper in booklets and suck out the top leaves with a vacuum.

But now Sells is in trouble: just before the New York boutique show, a giant Canadian paper corporation, the only company which has given him time on their machines, halted production of his booklets.

“You’ll love this story,” he said. “The president of the company is walking around and sees One-and-a-Halfs on the presses. He sees the slogan that appears on the package: ‘After all, it’s only a weed that turns into a flower in your mind.’ He flips out! ‘It’s for marijuana! Stop the presses!’

“It’s a company that did $900-and-some million last year, mostly in paper products. Rolling papers are nothing.”

Sells spent most of his time at the New York show talking with E-Z Wider and American Dream/Cooleaf, the two hip concerns that operate booklet machines in New York City and Northampton, Massachusetts. Earlier, in Chicago, Sells had chatted with Don Levin at Adam’s Apple about getting access to the Societé Job presses. But Sells wasn’t even sure he wanted to find another source. His eyes lit up when he talked about manufacturing the perfect paper. They also lit up when he talked about fielding an Indianapolis 500 race car. And they ignited when he spoke about his Rocky Mountain highs. “I teach tai chi. I start acupuncture this summer. I enjoy that. I don’t find business fulfilling.”

Over another beer, I reminded Sells that he’d been treated like a paraphernalia pioneer at the Dealer party, and asked for his comments as Class Historian.

“The people who were in it in the beginning may not have been good business heads,” he said, “but they were good people. Now we’ve got good business heads, but not particularly kind people. Understand, the reason I’ve survived is because I’ve been ruthless in many ways, and inconsiderate in ways — yes, at the expense of other people. I don’t like that.”

He sipped at his beer, then continued: “At the 1970 boutique show there were hippies. Then it went to hip and mod. Now it’s mod and straight. … I’m one of the last people in the business who wears denim all the time, long hair. My shirt hangs out. I wear T-shirts.

“Before this year’s show, I was at a tobacco-industry convention in Miami, and there they were. The leisure-suit crowd: cigar-chomping, overweight, regular straight people with lots of money.

“And that’s the paraphernalia business of the future. The paraphernalia business is going into the straight world. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year. It’s going into K-Mart, into Kresge, into Woolworth, into all the large national gift shops.

“The ma and pa stores are finished. The head shop is finished. It’s like the candy store. It’s all over.”

“A remarkable new marketplace is emerging in America because the marijuana subculture of the 1960s has established itself as the center of the major new leisure market of the 1970s.

“Grass and related highs have become commonplace in American life. Decriminalization of marijuana will continue with growing speed. A revolution in retailing on all fronts … will continue as paraphernalia retailers try to capture the imagination of the doper consumer.” —from an editorial in the first issue of Dealer

A few blocks further into Chicago’s North Side, the Adam’s Apple computer was pissed. With the help of Donna Patton, a computer operator whose black skin was set off by a blue turban and a silver nose ring. I was $157,000 to the good in a spirited game of blackjack. The machine dealt a king and a ten, and the orderly printout on the CRT screen erupted in mock anger.

“Blackjack, you lousy fucker.”

Adam’s Apple’s main offices occupy 13,500 square feet on the second floor of a warehouse on Chicago’s North Side. The back half is clogged with a cornucopia of comic books, rolling papers and a seemingly endless number of smoking devices. The front is partitioned into cubicles that house the company’s various divisions: sales to the tobacco outlets, boutique sales, accounting, corporate offices. Stuck in a corner is the office of the president, Don Levin.

On the day of my visit, Levin’s office was in disarray. A globe of the ancient world (the Northern Hemisphere flips up to reveal a liquor stash) sat next to a stack of shipping crates. Art deco posters and a semipsychedelic original painting of the smoke-haired woman on the cover of the company’s catalog were hung near plaques from the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry and the National Candy Wholesalers. A gold-plated bong, a gift from the manufacturer, stood proudly in an alcove; the only visible drug was some savory 1937 Vinho de Hooper port.

Levin is soft-voiced, medium-built, Isro-haired. He’d worn a handsome three-piece suit when he’d met with the Job representative at the Essex House in New York; at work on a Saturday afternoon, he was wearing a rumpled shirt.

With the calculator he uses to convert dollars into francs (so he can pay his foreign paper supplier at the opportune rate of exchange) sitting at his right elbow, Levin talked about his company’s spirit.

“This place reminds me a lot of 1969, 1970. It’s very pleasant here. The people say thank you. There’s a great personal involvement.

“It’s like a happy family.”

The metaphor is literally true; a brother and two cousins work for Adam’s Apple; a stepbrother is Don’s partner in Scentex, the largest incense company in the country. And then there’s Jake Levin, Don’s 62-year-old father, who gave up a job at city hall to become head of receiving and achieve immortality as the man on the “Man from Job” packages.

“We were making a new box,” Don explained. “We were trying to change the Job image. It’s the oldest cigarette paper in the world — 1835 — but the image was a little … 1835. They’d never sold much in the American market, and we wanted to change the image. So my father was there.”

Jake Levin loved it: “It was Donny’s idea, like everything else is Donny’s idea. I agree to everything that Donny says. I never wore a hat, I never smoked a cigarette.” He loves Adam’s Apple and says that coming there was “the best thing I ever did in my life.”

In 1969, Levin, fresh from the General Motors Institute of Dealer Management and the Marine Reserves, “decided to do something nonconventional to make me feel better.” He and a partner named Shelley Miller bought a store in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. The store was named Adam’s Apple after the son of the previous owner, and Levin kept the name because of the prettily painted sign on the plate-glass window.

George Sells was Levin’s source for rolling paper, and when Sells moved to Aspen Levin tried to make a new connection with importers in New York. “They were just making fantastic profits, and wouldn’t deliver,” he said. “So I finally went over to Europe and imported some.”

Levin became a paper-chaser. With the help of a progressive-minded bank vice-president he secured the credit necessary to distribute Job papers and set up the manufacture of his own Reefer Roller line. As word spread about the multimillion-dollar market, Levin opened offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles and began to penetrate the straight markets.

“Companies such as ourselves, three to four years ago, had the foresight to know that as the kids [the kids!] got older, they’d be coming out of the head shops. So Don began to blend the corporation.” So said Phil Mittleman, the 43-year-old national sales vice-president charged with administrating the company’s mainstream business. According to Mittleman, it wasn’t hard to break the supermarket barrier: “Three years ago, it was a moral issue. You ran into it almost every day. But remember, cigarette paper’s been on the market for generations. Major companies. We just blended into them.

“We asked them, ‘Do you handle Zig-Zag? Do you handle Tops? This is another product.’ And they came along.”

Even as the freakier companies were blending into new markets, the trippiness of millions of stoned freaks was causing outrageous products to proliferate like spores in a mushroom culture. One product, the Marygin, has sold over 300,000 units at about five dollars each, even though connoisseurs say that its plastic grinding wheel is more suitable for exercising laboratory rats than cleaning marijuana of its seeds and stems.

Adam’s Apple began to manufacture its own pipes and roach clips. It also concluded some unorthodox business alliances: before producing its own incense, the company distributed a line made by the Hare Krishna people. Now the company stocks 900 products in 50,000 square feet of floor space, most of which go to the small stores — “the boutique market” — which is supervised by 25-year-old Jeff Kaplan.

Visiting Kaplan in his cubicle halfway between Levin’s office and the computer room turned out to be like stepping through the Looking Glass.

“Who’s the most unusual person you’ve ever dealt with?”

“He’s a manufacturer, a guy named Jerry Samuels, out of Philadelphia. He makes a couple of roach clips, called Functional Jewelry, in the shape of a Jewish star, a cross and whatnot. It interested me when I found out Jerry Samuels — everybody knows him as Napoleon XIV — did a song called ‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Haaa!’ And now he’s got a few other recordings out, numbers like ‘I Owe a Lot to Iowa Pot.'”

“What’s the best product in the catalog?”

“Well, it’s gotta be somewhat of a partial statement because it’s a product I designed. It’s the reefer rolling tray. I know a lot of people who smoke pot, who are heavily into it. You can walk into any one of their houses at any given time and find them sitting there with a shoe-box top and the ace of spades.

“Being in marketing, all I can say to myself is, give them something permanent that performs that function and they’ll buy it.”

“What’s the weirdest product you’ve ever seen?”

“It’s a pipe that’s a metal sculpture in the shape of a bird. The bird’s head, which forms to a beak, pops open and its tail comes up and you smoke off its tail.

“It ran me, at wholesale, $25.”

The paraphernalia business, Kaplan said, has its trends. Cooleaf’s menthol paper sells well in black areas, and small pipes are popular near military bases. He explained: “Gls in their barracks can’t have a bong sitting around. It wouldn’t be kosher.”

Last winter Kaplan put together the Adam’s Apple Christmas stocking. “I tried to design it to be as complete as possible. We gave them a pipe, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Marijuana, a rolling machine, some papers, a clip, incense, some screens and, to give it the Christmas effect, we threw some Zots [a candy] on the bottom. So, you know, if somebody’s parents should see it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s a candy-filled stocking.'”

The quest for new products has led the paraphernalia business rather far afield. Adam’s Apple has had good luck with Orgy Butter, a linament used for sexual desensitization. “Why sex?” Levin said, “That’s a good question. It’s just a trippy thing. It has no meaning in the paraphernalia industry.”

Kaplan was more enthusiastic. “Orgy Butter’s been incredible,” he said excitedly. “As a matter of fact, we just added a new flavor. It came in today — coconut! It’s an edible product. We have to have the labs test it. One has to be able to lick it off somebody else’s body.”

Kaplan said he keeps up with the latest products through random polls of retailers. Recently, two store owners in Atlanta turned him on to a manufacturer of hemostats — “which we’re gonna pick up because people can’t steal enough from the hospitals. If it can hold a vein, it can certainly hold a roach!”

At the New York boutique show, various paraphernalia merchants noted that they refused to sell a product called Locker Room, a stimulant whose effects resemble those of amyl nitrite. And most companies keep their no-drug policy intact by not stocking Lettuce Opium, Kava Kava Root and similar substances, which are legal and not listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference.

But what about the gray area, legal products that somebody might use in connection with cocaine?

George Sells’ Head Imports no longer handles snorters and spoons. “Our old policy was ‘no cocaine paraphernalia.’ We didn’t want to project the image of promoting cocaine. Then, in 1974, we started carrying a half-dozen items. It was the concept of: you gotta carry everything and then a customer will buy from you. But it doesn’t work that way. We were never very aggressive with it, it sold quite well, and we phased it out last year.”

Adam’s Apple lists a page or so of spoons, snorters and vials in its catalog, but Levin had said earlier that “we’re gonna be backing away from that.” Now, in Kaplan’s office, Levin was even more succinct: “I have absolutely nothing to say on the subject of cocaine paraphernalia.”

It came as no surprise that paraphernalia concerns take care not to offend traditional-minded customers and financial institutions. But, according to Keith Stroup, founder and head of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, “The gloves come off when they deal with each other. The industry has been very competitive, like any industry with a lot of money and no ground rules. They never had any coalitions; they have always tried to eat each other alive. Any time they’ve tried to form a trade association — hell, they can’t stand each other! So naturally they’re not going to cooperate in any industrial policy.”

Stroup noted that trade associations have occasionally come together to defray the cost of developing new products. But he didn’t think much of them. “I happened to be at the New York boutique show a few years ago, and there was an effort of some folks to create a trade association. It took a major effort to even get them in the same room. It was the first time most of them had dealt with each other on a face-to-face level, and it seemed juvenile and unprofessional.

“Looking around the country, Berney-Karp, run by Morry Karp out of Los Angeles, is the biggest company on the West Coast, and the major national manufacturer and distributor of glass pipes. In the Midwest, Don Levin and Adam’s Apple is the country’s largest distributor of paper. On the East Coast, Burt Rubin’s E-Z Wider is the dominant company.

“I’ve known all of them for years, and there’s never been the slightest cooperation between them. Rather, it’s a life-and-death struggle.”

As if to prove Stroup’s point, Don Levin ended the summer at Adam’s Apple by insisting that his staff sign an “Employee Confidential Information and Invention Agreement.” The document forbade an employee from talking shop to competitors while employed by Adam’s Apple, and for five years after leaving. No penalties were specified, but Levin felt the agreement “would provide grounds for court action against any corporation that used the information.

“We had somebody leaving the company,” Levin explained, “and I got word back that they had taken a mailing list. We’re a bit lax about security here, and this list is worth a lot of money. And so, in order to protect myself, the attorneys had said — oh my God, a year ago — that they should sign an agreement saying that this information does belong to the company and make them aware that it is the private, personal property of the company.”

And a while after that, Don Levin made George Sells an offer for his One-and-a-Half papers. Sells happily packed his things and left for Taiwan, where he planned to study acupuncture and tai chi for six months or so. Levin stayed in Chicago and began an aggressive marketing program. Blue Oyster Cult put it best: “Things ain’t what they used to be/ And this ain’t the summer of love.”

And now a word from the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. The so-called “Eastland committee” spent May of 1975 listening to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s report on the burgeoning marijuana trade. Its report, “Marihuana-Hashish Epidemic — The Continuing Escalation,” estimated that between 8 and 12 million pounds of pot entered the U.S. during 1974. Figuring an overly generous 700-800 joints per pound, the committee concluded that America’s potheads consumed 9-10 billion skinny little sticks of marijuana. Had they troubled to put them all in a row, this stairway to heaven would have reached from the earth to the moon.

Meanwhile, eight states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it punishable by fine instead of jail. The same federal government that brought us “Epidemic” also collects $1.5 million in taxes on rolling papers alone. Jimmy Carter’s spoken favorably about easing possession penalties on a national level after he takes office.

With all this in mind, I asked a few experts to light up some imaginary Colombian weed and fantasize about the future.

George Sells: “Decriminalization is a boon. The volume will become enormous. Legalization — which seems to me 10 or 20 years away — I don’t know if it’s possible. I see Lucky Strike joints, I see Hiram Walker joints. I see them pumping out 2000 joints a minute. I saw a machine that can do 3500 cigarettes a minute. It could eliminate us.” Yet Sells believes that business heads are still heads. “It’s one of the high points, I would say. About everybody in the business wants to see it legalized. First decriminalized, so they’re more or less still in business. It’s an honest sincerity of not wanting people to get cracked.”

Don Levin saw it differently: “Decriminalization means that people who want to do something can. Legalization means that the admen will come in and say, ‘Buy this, buy this, buy this!’ They’ll make you use it for other than the real, euphoric reason for marijuana.” Levin, too, thinks it would be easy for the tobacco industry to retool. “With their assets, and their capabilities, they can do anything. They can do anything! Twenty-two feet long, or nine feet wide.”

Phil Mittleman, with his tobacco-company contacts, didn’t think they’d want to: “They’re very complacent. Are they interested in legalization? It never came up with them.”

Burt Rubin of E-Z Wider agreed: “It could go to the tobacco companies, to the liquor companies. But I think they’re both — especially the liquor companies — lobbying against that kind of thing. They have vested interests. People get high on booze. Why let them get high on anything else?”

Andy Kowal, publisher of High Times, believes that marijuana will be legalized during the 1980s. “Decriminalization’s gonna be a tremendous boon to everything because there’ll be that many fewer dry periods when you can’t find dope, and the paraphernalia industry is very much dependent on the dope industry. … I think legalization will affect the rolling-paper industry a great deal. But I don’t for a minute think that legalization is going to stop the dope black market, because once the government gets their hands into it, they’ll put controls onto the THC content. You have an ever-expanding group of so-called connoisseurs of good marijuana. Ten years from now you’ll have many, many more than you have today. … All of this under-the-table sale and growing will help the paraphernalia industry.”

That left Stroup, the 32-year-old national director of NORML, which seeks to make “marijuana smoking a private choice.” Stroup, once a public-interest lawyer for the National Commission on Product Safety, formed NORML in 1971 after the bust of the person who first turned him on. Sometime later, he had a falling-out with Amorphia, a Mill Valley “cannabis cooperative” which published “The Marijuana Review” and sold rolling papers to support a 1972 legalization effort called the California Marijuana Initiative.

Time marched on even outside the system; Amorphia went up in smoke; NORML now lists senators Javits and Hart on its advisory board and recently secured an injunction against the Indiana state legislature’s attempt to outlaw pipes and rolling papers.

Stroup’s Georgetown office is festooned with law degrees and ads from Playboy and High Times. The modestly furnished townhouse is part of a $300,000-a-year operation that draws its money from a variety of sources. Though its $100,000-a-year salad days have become a casualty of corporate belt-tightening, Playboy kicked in $40,000 this year. High Times went in for $20,000. A lecture series netted $30,000. Businessmen Stewart Mott and Max Palevsky donated $15,000 and $10,000 respectively. And then there were the less standardized gifts, like the one from the anonymous private citizen who traipsed into the office one day and left $10,000 on the counter.

After some small talk, Stroup began to talk about marijuana with all the enthusiasm of a cheerleader on uppers.

“What’s going to win,” he said about legalization, “is that from a social policy standpoint, it makes sense to control the market so you can impose age and quality and strength controls, so you can inform the consumer of everything possible about the ill effects and let him make that final decision. It just doesn’t make sense to have decriminalization. Decriminalization is a cease-fire, a halfway step.”

But Stroup welcomes decriminalization. “What decriminalization is saying politically is this: ‘We recognize that marijuana smokers are not criminals and shouldn’t be treated like criminals.’ At that point, you have removed morality from the issue.

“Once the morality’s removed, it’s gonna be a growth industry that’s gonna be treated like tennis shoes must have been. I don’t say this out of any particular glee — I just think it’s a result of ‘the great free-enterprise system’ — you’re gonna see lots of fortunes made in the marijuana paraphernalia industry.

“You’re gonna see marijuana go middle class. And I mean middle class. You’re gonna see a whole generation of new smokers who have grown up and never rolled a joint, never handled rolling papers, who’ve never seen marijuana in its uncleaned, unmanicured form.” Stroup picked up a concert pipe — a small, easily concealed pipe popular at concerts and other public gatherings — off his desk to emphasize his point. “They’ll be middle-class people who have only bought joints prerolled or have only smoked them in these kinds of new instruments.

“I think the growth potential is unlimited. And it’s gonna be boom town for at least another ten years.”

Stroup toked on some of the imaginary Colombian and meditated on a fantasy: suddenly the president’s son has been busted, and the chief executive has gone before the Congress and asked for legalization. The Congress has passed it, the court has upheld it, and now we have legal marijuana. What happens?

“It wouldn’t be that simple,” Stroup replied. “The first obstacle is a federal law, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which makes pot possession or sale illegal even in the eight decriminalized states. And even if the federal government decided to legalize marijuana, it would first have to amend an international treaty, the Single Convention Treaty of 1961, which forbids the use of marijuana for other than scientific or therapeutic purposes [like treatment of glaucoma]. Don’t bet on it happening soon.”

Ultimately, Stroup said, responsibility for legalization will filter down to the states. “You’re gonna have some systems that are gonna be adopted exactly along the alcohol model because the legislators are not gonna have enough creative sense to do something new. … And in those states I’m afraid you’ll be besieged with advertisements for marijuana brands. I think there’ll be other states where they will be far more enlightened. I think whenever you have legal marijuana in those states they’ll probably preclude all advertising, and have a tax benefitting some public-interest project.

“But,” Stroup added, “I think it’s going to be impossible to totally keep out — probably the cigarette industry, the alcohol industry, maybe a combined version of those. Especially the cigarette industry, because they’ve got all the equipment, the land where it wouldn’t cost them anything to change over.

“If I was on a tobacco-company board, and I didn’t see a report floating around on the potential, I would think someone was remiss.

“I think again they can’t do much until decriminalization, because for them to try to exploit the market prior to that means they’re actually working on the market during the time a lot of Americans still consider it immoral. Companies can’t get by with that. They would get in so much trouble. So I think what happens is that they will remain fairly quiet until decriminalization.”

Then Stroup dropped his bombshell. “I will tell you that we’ve been visited by an attorney from New York. He set up the appointment, said he represented a multinational corporation worth several hundred million dollars. He said it was not a tobacco company, although, truthfully, I imagine he’s lying. But he was out front. He said, ‘My client wants to know: will marijuana ever be legal, and if it’s gonna be legal, how will it be set up, and can we get a piece of the action?’ This was probably eight months ago. This was the first time they’ve ever made a direct hit on us and, again, it was done by way of a New York attorney, without giving us the name of the client, so we don’t really know who made the hit.”

“In the paneled board rooms of some large corporations the executives are casting covetous eyes on the multibillion-dollar marijuana market.

“… Tobacco companies have set aside choice southern land for future marijuana harvests, competent sources report.

“Some firms have even registered trademarks on brand names, lifted straight from marijuana street lingo. Since trademarks cannot be issued for illegal products, the companies are using them temporarily on other obscure tobacco items.

“Once marijuana is legalized, the firms can switch the trademarks, say, from cigars to pot.” —Jack Anderson, July 22, 1976

It was a warm summer day in Washington and there were many things for a tourist to do. I could have gone to Dulles International Airport to watch the Concorde soar into the air. I could have visited the National Zoo to watch the pandas be cute. But throughout my travels, I’ve been pursued by mail from the Home Office, outtakes from something called the “Official Gazette,” which notes various suspicious trademark registrations undertaken by large companies. Which is why I came to Crystal City.

Crystal City is not a Viennese glassworks, nor is it a vacation spot for speed freaks. The complex of cream-colored office buildings in Arlington, Virginia, houses several government agencies. “Building 2” is headquarters for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

I was there to get rich.

My plan was to register a trademark for “Acapulco Gold.” Then, when marijuana became legal, guess who’d be sucking lead hose on the big hookah?

I got off the elevator on the second floor, went into a room that was chillingly reminiscent of a college library, slid into a cubicle and began to fill out my trademark application.

Mark: Acapulco Gold. Class No.: 34

(That’s the class for smoker’s articles and tobacco products. Time to expand its boundaries.)

To the Commissioner of Patents:

Name of applicant: Abe Peck. Business address: c/o Rolling Stone, 625 3rd St., SF 94107. Residence address: Censored to avoid fortune hunters. Citizenship of applicant: U.S.A.

The above identified applicant has adopted and is using a trademark for Acapulco Gold Marijuana and requests that said mark be registered in the United States Patent Office on the Principal Register established by the act of July 5th, 1946.

So requested. But still my plan was in trouble. If I BS’ed the federal bureaucrats with a claim that I’d shipped a kilo or so of Acapulco Gold, say, from Oaxaca to San Francisco, and that a few friends were now smoking same, that same government might send a note over to the Drug Enforcement Administration or some other agency that frowns on marijuana trafficking.

And then I saw a clause at the very bottom of the form: “Willful false statements … are punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both.”

Regretfully, I crumpled up the form and tossed it in a wastebasket. I was crushed. But I was also curious. Surely some conglomerate had found a way around these seeming limitations.

I walked across the room, where rows of file cabinets completed the library motif. Each drawer contained a pile of registration applications, complete with file numbers and a stamp showing when they were logged into the Patent Office mailroom.

I looked up the trademarks for Acapulco Gold and Panama Red. And I found them! There was an Acapulco Gold registered to Heublein Inc., of Hartford, Connecticut, the people behind everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to premixed drinks. Another Acapulco Gold registry was held by Charmer Industries, a liquor distributor based in Smithtown, New York. And there was the Acapulco Gold trademark held by RD III Ventures of Great Neck, Long Island.

Panama Red was registered to Heads and Company of Indianapolis. And when I moved to less predictable color schemes, I found Jamaica Gold registered to Brick-Hanauer of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Tennessee Green held by a Nashville company of the same name.

There was only one hitch: the Acapulco Golds were, respectively, a chip dip, a tequila and a suntan oil. The Panama Red, a cologne. The Jamaica Gold, a cigar. The Tennessee Green, anticlimactically, a matchbook.

There were no marijuana registrations. And, if we believe C. Morten Wendt, the director of trademark examining operations, there won’t be any until legalization, when and if.

Wendt’s name reminded me of “C.W. Moss,” Bonnie and Clyde’s sidekick. Seated in his office down the hall from the Trademark Search room, Wendt himself, mid-50s, dapper, his hair neatly trimmed, looked a bit like the bankers the Barrow gang loved to visit. In a high-pitched voice, Wendt explained why it is currently impossible to register any trademark for marijuana.

“You see, the owner of a trademark acquires property rights through use of that mark before the public as a means of identifying goods. Now, trademarks for marijuana are not registerable. The mark must be in lawful use in order to be registered. Our government has not legalized the sale of marijuana. Therefore,” he said with the confidence of a man who lives by the rules, “marijuana is not a product that moves in commerce. Therefore it cannot have a registerable trademark.”

Wendt asserted that nobody would use the name “Acapulco Gold” for marijuana even if it became legal. “It’s more or less a generic term for it. And therefore, nobody has the exclusive right to the use of it.”

I felt better. I couldn’t register it, but neither could anybody else. But I recalled that Amorphia had raised money by selling Acapulco Gold rolling papers. I asked Wendt about it, and he replied that they never actually registered their common-law trademark.

“We would not register that,” he said, “for the simple reason that we would say it would be deceptive.”

“In the sense that it refers to a marijuana product?”

“Right,” he answered.

Assassination buffs have “smoking pistol” theories to explain their conspiracies. I asked Wendt about what might be called a “smoking reefer” conspiracy — that the cigarette companies have already registered the most commercial names that could be applied to marijuana.

“Oh that’s all false! That’s all false!” Wendt seemed genuinely angry. “For one thing, our records are open to the public. There is no such thing as reserving a mark. We have combated this story for the last 15 years, and so it is absolutely false.

“There’s no protection given to tobacco companies, and they would never — it would be very poor business if they were to take one of their known brands, their known trademarks, in the event that marijuana does become legal, and use it upon a marijuana cigarette.”

“Where do you think this tobacco company rumor came from?”

“I don’t know — but honestly, I’ve been asked it by every one of the news syndicates and the New York Times and I don’t know how many others.”

I recalled a book called Pot Art, which quoted Ronald Reagan on the tobacco conspiracy. I gave the “smoking reefer” theory one last try.

“You know that Reagan said in 1972 that there are 14 tobacco companies which have trademarked marijuana.” “What,” Wendt replied icily, “does Reagan know about trademarks?”

Jack Anderson’s column appeared the day after I typed up my notes on Crystal City. A call to his office revealed that the people who wrote and researched the column under Anderson’s byline had no evidence that specific tobacco companies were preparing for marijuana cultivation on their land. “But,” said Gary Cohn, the reporter on the story, “they all own land down there which, according to my sources, is perfectly convertible for grass.” And Cohn made a new and interesting point:

“The way I understand it is that if the company has a trademark for a smoking product — say cigars or cigarettes — you can transfer it to another smoking product. That’s what I believe and what some legal experts who’ve researched the matter have told me.” Cohn agreed with Wendt’s contention that liquor companies outside the smoker’s article class wouldn’t have a head start with their names if marijuana became legal. Companies like Acapulco and Tijuana Smalls cigars, though, might.

The image of a smoking reefer pervaded the room. I called Wendt back.

Though not an Anderson fan, Wendt admitted that the tobacco companies could potentially transfer their trademarks within the smoker’s article class. But he made his own interesting point.

“I doubt if any one of them would transfer,” he said. “Even if marijuana becomes popular, there’s such a thing as the good will of the product. The product has been established as a tobacco product, and not everyone who smokes tobacco would want to smoke marijuana. I think it would be very poor business policy. If it was not labeled that the ingredient had been changed, the purchaser would have cause of action against the owner of the mark.”

So there I was, blocked from making a fortune, with only the word of the director of trademark examining operations that the companies would respect the good will of their products as my consolation. It seemed like there was only one thing left to do, and I did it. That night, before going to sleep, I left a flowerpot with a hardy green weed in it on my hotel balcony. The next morning I rendezvoused with a Washington trademark attorney. Call him “Deep Toke.”

“I have never done it for any of my clients,” Deep Toke said about registering handy names. “And I’m not sure there’s anything unethical about it. If you’re talking about actually putting out a product — Tijuana Smalls is an example. That’s a very viable product. Now they picked a name for it that may provide some help if marijuana is ever legalized. But that’s a very good product for that particular company, I’m sure, and their main interest is probably in cigars.”

“In your opinion,” I asked Deep Toke, “have tobacco companies registered names for marijuana?”

“My reply would be that they have registered a number of names that may be useful in connection with marijuana cigarettes if they were ever legalized. But I don’t think that was their intention in doing it. I really don’t.”

Needless to say, it wasn’t hard to get the tobacco companies to agree. “Our own company has no plans for the production of marijuana cigarettes,” said Dan Provost, director of corporate communications for Liggett Group Inc., “and reliable sources have said that no other company has either.” Harold Edison, trade-relations manager of the General Cigar and Tobacco Company, makers of Tijuana Smalls cigars, said, “We knew there was a danger with the name, that Tijuana had a reputation. But,” he added, perhaps a bit too kind to our neighbor to the south, “we found that the name ‘Tijuana’ had merit aside from any drug aspect: it’s associated with liveliness, youth and fun.” The American Tobacco Company: “We don’t discuss marijuana at all.”

Deep Toke felt certain that he thought he’d “never smoke a legal joint in his lifetime.” But he volunteered a scenario after taking a puff on the imaginary Colombian. The news was not good for the wide world of hip.

“I can see a quick jump, a conversion if you will, from tobacco farming in some areas to marijuana. It’s a heck of a lot easier to raise; tobacco is a pain. And I can see that the big tobacco companies will get into it to some extent. I don’t know if they will jump into it fully or not. You can never tell. A board of directors of a tobacco company may look at the thing and say, ‘We don’t care if it’s legal or not, we’re not gonna do it.’ But I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot of money to be made and, like it or not, they’ll be jumping in.

“They’re not interested right now in doing anything that could be questionable. But if marijuana’s legalized, they’ve got it wrapped up.”


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.