Inside The Secretive World of High-End, Ultra-Luxe Art Bongs

A look at high end glass up for auction at Heritage Auctions

Tommy Chong, the hairier half of pot-blazing duo Cheech and Chong, was greeted by the feds one morning in 2003, guns drawn as they stormed his house. He was soon charged with selling bongs and marijuana pipes, which had been distributed online through his family’s company, Nice Dreams Enterprises. This was illegal, sure. But the nine months Chong served in prison, plus monetary punishments, were widely considered pretty fucking over-the-top within the industry. It seemed like the feds were trying to make an example of the comedian for making a mockery of drug laws in America. Along with Chong, more than 50 others were targeted for selling glass pipes at head shops or distributing them online. “People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different than drug dealers,” said a DEA administrator at the time.

Operation Pipe Dreams, as it was called, was a warning to the cannabis world that in 2003, the government believed everything they did was dirty, illicit, and wrong.

A lot has changed since then. Technically, it is still illegal to sell drug paraphernalia like bongs in the eyes of the federal government. But enforcement of that law is nearly non-existent in most places, and head shops masquerade behind signs that say their products are “for tobacco use only.” Cannabis is everywhere, for everyone, if you can walk a legal line. But the bong itself still seems sketchy as hell, a reminder of dumb stoner movies and hiding the stench of weed from your dorm’s RA. It’s an artifact of a bygone era that’s more or less gone up in smoke.

Not these bongs, though. On Monday, July 22, three of the most intense bongs you’ve ever seen went up for auction at Heritage Auctions in Chicago—the first public, fine art auction of bongs to ever take place in America, at the third-largest auction house in the world. Melding highbrow artistry with lowbrow culture, they’re part of a small family of astonishing glass bongs that sell for thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to anyone who wants to buy a piece they’d be proud to display on the mantle. They work, too.

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