Brooklyn based online headshop cofounder talks East Coast glass and the future of smoking

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Two bongs and a waterpipe: can your East Coast mind tell the difference? From left, the Red Double Flower Bong, Lemon Drop Dual Use Water Pipe and Double Flower Serendipity Bong, all $1,000+ and all sold out

While the West Coast, Colorado and a number of other states continue pushing forward with recreational and inclusive medical marijuana programs, New York flounders behind with its dated, notoriously restrictive policies. Despite the limited ability of company’s in this state to pioneer weed-related industries, however, some companies still try, hopeful the bonds of illegalization will soon be lifted and they can fully thrive.

Brooklyn based online headshop SmokeSmith offers high-end smart smoke gear of the like you’d be hard-pressed to find in a bodega, neighborhood smoke shop, or for that matter anywhere in New York, where the scene for heady glassware is still in its infant stage. Indeed, most paraphernalia vendors in NYC have a larger selection of hookahs than bongs, not surprising considering the impossibility of legal weed consumption for the vast majority of residents (except, of course, for those confusing Weed World vans).

SmokeSmith ships nationally, but being Brooklyn based, Peter Hyman, the cofounder of its retail incubator, Moonshoot Ventures, had a lot of to say regarding the online marijuana industry’s slow but persistent growth in a place where marijuana arrests are still routine, despite it being decriminalized on paper. We chatted with Hyman about Brooklyn’s glass scene, still in its babyhood, what it’s like selling paraphernalia online in New York State, and more of our burning NYC bud-related questions.

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You'd be hard-pressed to find glass of this quality in your local smoke shop – at least in Brooklyn. From left, the Autumn Double Flower Bong, Lily Pond Water Pipe and Morning Glory Heady Bong.
You’d be hard-pressed to find glass of this quality in your local smoke shop – at least in Brooklyn. From left, the Autumn Double Flower Bong, Lily Pond Water Pipe and Morning Glory Heady Bong.

Is the online headshop world the new frontier for marijuana on the East Coast?

Everything we sell is for use with tobacco or legal substances only. But I would say that online headshops are certainly one part of what is colloquially referred to as “the green rush.” The East Coast is light years behind what is happening in places like Portland, Denver and Seattle and, of course, all through California. And even there this industry is still very much the wild West. So it’s all very much still a frontier, which is exciting. It feels like we are all part of something for which there are no set rules and no dominant players. That will change, of course, as huge brands and companies are merely sitting on the sidelines, waiting for federal legalization. But for now it does feel a bit like we are riding into Deadwood, in search of freedom, adventure and gold.

Have you faced a lot of harsh regulation, or is New York State relatively lenient when it comes to online vendors?

The single biggest hurdle that all vendors of water pipes, hand pipes, vaporizers and smoke accessories face is finding a merchant service provider, which is what allows you to process credit cards and take payment. Despite all the progress that has been made in terms of legalization and the reduction in social stigma, the banks underlying these merchant providers still see what we do as “high risk” or “prohibited” because of its alleged connection to a substance that is illegal at the federal level. New York State has been a delight to work with as an online vendor and we have faced no regulatory issues at all. But in terms of the medical marijuana laws New York is one of the least progressive states in the nation, both in terms of dispensary licensing and qualifying conditions for patients. But we will have a dispensary in Brooklyn by 2018, so that’s hopeful!

Is the online market putting paraphernalia hubs like St. Mark’s and local smoke shops in danger, or is it a separate marketplace?

I have a soft spot for those dive-y smoke shops that have proliferated in the city and even for places like Sunflower Pipes, which has two locations in Brooklyn. I think those shops will survive, if only on traffic from tourists and high school kids who take the train in from Jersey and Long Island. But what we hope to offer is more curation and better brands than those shops can provide, which are often just case after case stuffed with random glass pipes. More than anything we have found a tremendous desire from customers for information and education, so we spend a lot of time explaining things like the advantages of honeycomb percolators or the difference between a dab rig and bong, which those shops just cannot do. There is also the element of discretion that comes with buying online. Working professionals don’t always want to be seen walking through Cobble Hill or Park Slope carrying a three-foot water pipe home from a brick and mortar store.

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From left, a Multi Colored Water Pipe, Single Flower Heady Fumed Bong and Heady Double-Layer Bong.
From left, a Multi Colored Water Pipe, Single Flower Heady Fumed Bong and Heady Double-Layer Bong.

The West Coast has a glass scene – does Brooklyn? Or, lacking the relevant legal industry, do you think we won’t get a real one till recreational gets legalized?

The East Coast scene is in its infancy in comparison to what has been happening on the West Coast for decades. Some of this is environmental as there has always been more of a headshop and glass blowing ethos on the West Coast, owing to the fact that the original glasshead population settled there. But some of it is tied to the fact that recreational usage is not yet legal here in New York or in most of the big cities in the Northeast. I see an analog to gourmet coffee. New York City was the last place in America to embrace it, years after it was almost passé in San Francisco and Seattle. But once it was embraced here a million and one coffee shops and roasters popped up. Once New York state goes fully recreational I think you will see every aspect of this industry explode and become more mainstream, for better or worse.

Do you have any favorite Brooklyn glass artists? Or any Brooklyn glass blowers in SmokeSmith?

The guy leading the charge locally is Ben Barocas who has a small company called MTP Glass, based in Manhattan. He is most well-known for his cat butt pipes and bongs, but he blows a lot of high end glass pieces. Here in Brooklyn there is a facility in Gowanus called Brooklyn Glass. They offer classes but it’s also a place where individual artists work and I think that smaller studios like that will be where the Brooklyn scene gets catalyzed. But in my experience most glassblowers are more likely to be found in a small cabin in the woods, not in big cities.

One Brooklyn based company that is worth noting is Puffco. They make two different vape pens that have won industry awards and customer accolades. They were founded in 2013 and all the engineering and design work is done in-house, in Brooklyn. We carry both versions of their vaporizer and they both sell well. I think that as much as glass blowing what we will see in Brooklyn are small startups that service the industry in any number of ways, from manufacturing vapes to inventing payment processing systems to creating the best editorial publications to cover the culture and business of cannabis to, yes, blowing amazing heady glass pipes, bongs, dab rigs and bubblers.

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