Doug Dracup and I are standing in front of a glass cabinet in his new gallery on South La Brea Avenue. We are looking at what appear to be handblown glass fruit — a big pineapple, strawberries, a bunch of grapes — but which are actually pipes.
Really, really expensive pipes. For smoking cannabis concentrates such as hash or shatter or wax or budder or rosin, many of which did not exist until recently.
The fruit set, made by renowned Humboldt County glass artist Scott Rosinski, is not for sale, Dracup said, but if it were, it would probably cost six figures.
My jaw dropped a little, but I should not have been surprised. There is so much about the cannabis world that is unexpected, and costly. The paraphernalia of my youth — Zig Zag rolling papers, alligator roach clips, shoebox lids for separating leaf from seeds — are laughably quaint now.
Today, the range of products is astonishing, goosed along by the death of marijuana prohibition and the influx of cash into an industry where visions of dollar signs have replaced fear of prosecution.
Dracup, 31, owns Hitman Glass, which makes high-end glass pipes. Last month, he opened Hitman Coffee here in a cavernous space that used to be a rug store. For members only, it is part bong gallery, part coffee shop and part co-work space. Memberships cost about $400 a month, or $4,000 a year, roughly in line with rents at other co-work spaces around town.
Display cases are filled with even more pipes-that-look-nothing-like-pipes.
Also, and possibly most enticing, Hitman has a smoking patio in back where members can bring their own joints, blunts, pipes and rigs and smoke themselves happy. Dracup and his staff are willing to teach curious neophytes about concentrates, which can be up to four times stronger than top-shelf cannabis flowers, and how to consume them.
No cannabis will be sold on the premises; in fact, no businesses in the state can legally sell recreational cannabis until 2018, and even then they will need state and local licenses.
Dracup moved to Los Angeles from Boston in 2011. Several months before, his best friend and business partner, Erik Weissman, 31, was murdered in Waltham, Mass., with two other young men. Before his death, Weissman had not been able to move west with Dracup because he was facing a court case related to an arrest for marijuana possession and intent to distribute.
Authorities believe that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who would become one of the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013, may have been involved. A friend of his in Orlando, Fla., had implicated himself and Tsarnaev in the killings. In the midst of writing a confession, the friend tried to assault an F.B.I. agent and was shot to death.
(Had the Waltham triple murder been solved, some have speculated, the Boston Marathon bombings may never have happened.)
I asked Dracup why he chose such a violent-sounding name for his company. He shook his head. “It’s not what you think. For us, it means, ‘Take a hit, man.’”
Three years ago, Dracup founded Chalice California, a San Bernardino County summertime music and art festival that focuses on concentrates and glass artists. He was inspired by the cannabis fairs that High Times magazine hosts across the country. Last year, 24,000 people attended the three-day event.
He barely broke even, he said. (This year’s Chalice California festival will be held July 7 to 9 in Victorville at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds.)
“With Chalice, I’ve paid my dues, had a lot of growing pains,” Dracup said. “There is no pamphlet on how to throw a prestigious hash competition in our culture, so we are, like, writing it.”
“There’s no pamphlet” could be the motto of most new cannabis ventures.
As Dracup’s glass business has grown, he’s found out the hard way what many other innovators have discovered: There’s a world of competitors out there willing to steal your designs, mass produce them at a fraction of your cost and undercut you online.
“This is like Nike-level counterfeiting,” said Dracup, holding a white, frosted glass pipe made of concentric circles like an upside-down wedding cake. “This is the original. This thing cost me $150 to $200 to produce.”
Counterfeiters who mass produce in China are selling it online for $30 retail, he said, showing me a website that seems to have simply dragged a photo of his pipe onto its site.
“I have a lawyer,” he said, “but I haven’t really had the financial means to deal with this. Also, I’m not sure I am ready to go into a courtroom and argue about bongs.”
He’s also been on the other side of a trademark complaint.
Last year, Starbucks filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Hitman Glass and pipe artist Jim Landgraf, who had collaborated on a “Dabuccino” pipe, which looked exactly like a domed Frappuccino cup. Landgraf, who lost his case by default when he did not show up in court, was ordered by a New York judge to pay Starbucks $410,000.
Dracup is about to settle with the coffee giant.
“We felt like it was a parody,” Dracup said, “but the minute Starbucks let us know they didn’t, we had to respect that.”
The Dabuccinos, according to the lawsuit, originally sold for $800 to $8,000, and are now considered collectors’ items.
Knockoffs, by the way, are being sold online for about $20. Dracup said he’s hoping Starbucks understands that he’s got nothing to do with those. Once again, there’s no pamphlet for how to deal with that.