Head shop

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Not to be confused with smart shop.
This article is about the type of retail outlet. For information about the psychedelic rock band, see The Head Shop.
Products on display at a typical head shop

A head shop is a retail outlet specializing in paraphernalia used for consumption of cannabis, tobacco, legal highs, legal party powders and New Age herbs[clarification needed], as well as counterculture art, magazines, music, clothing, and home decor; some head shops also sell oddities, such as antique walking sticks and sex toys.

Products offered typically include pipes; pipe screens; bongs (also referred to as water pipes[1]); cigarette clips; vaporizers; rolling papers; rolling machines; scales; blacklight-responsive posters; incense; cigarette lighters; and legal highs such as whipped-cream chargers (which contain nitrous oxide) and Salvia divinorum (both of which are illegal in some countries and some US states for recreational purposes).


American head shops originated in the 1960s in cities with high concentrations of college-age youth, often growing out of independently owned poster or candle stores. Historically, US head shops proliferated on St. Mark's Place in New York City's East Village, in West Los Angeles, in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, and in Chicago's Old Town. Sources cite the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street in San Francisco as the first head shop in the United States.[2][3][4] Operated by United States Army veteran Ron Thelin and his younger brother Jay, it opened on January 3, 1966. Four months later Jeff Glick opened "Head Shop" on East Ninth Street in New York City.[5] Also in 1966, The Birmingham Balloon Company opened at 113 Fry Street Denton, Tx. Head shops served as an important outlet for underground newspapers and the underground comix of Robert Crumb and other counterculture cartoonists, which had little access to the established channels of newsstand distribution.[6] The shops' popularity eventually waned with the aging of that era's baby boomer generation, and with the retail mainstream discovering and co-opting aspects of that market niche, such as acid rock and eco-friendly products.



Main article: Head shops in Ireland

Head shops exist and are legal in Ireland, and were reported by authorities to be opening at a rate of one per week in January 2010.[7] The legality of the shops was discussed in the Irish Senate and a motion was passed requesting the Government to regulate the sale of products.[7] Some politicians were in favour of outlawing the shops while others argued this would be a "huge mistake" which would allow illegal street dealers to thrive.[8]

During early 2010, many incidents of firebombing and arson against head shops took place around the country.[9][10] Some attacks were traced to disgruntled drug dealers.[11][12] One petrol bomb attack occurred in the home county of the then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, and hours later, plans for legislation for regulation of head shops got underway.[13]

Many head shop products became illegal in Ireland on 23 August 2010[14] when the new Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 became law.[15] The Act empowered Gardaí (Irish police) to seek court orders to close head shops suspected of selling drug-like products, with the onus on the owners to prove they are not doing so.

United States[edit]

In the United States, head shops are legal so long as they sell items used for legal substances. The sale of certain tobacco paraphernalia is considered legal in all states, but is illegal on a federal level.

Head shops have been targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2003, The U.S. Department of Justice indicted fifty-five people on charges of selling drug paraphernalia in Idaho, Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio as part of Operation Headhunter and Operation Pipe Dreams, including comedian Tommy Chong.[16] During the investigation, government officials also targeted customers of the shops, arresting those who were in possession of drugs like cannabis and heroin.[17]

The legality of cannabis varies widely in the United States, but in states where medical cannabis is legal cannabis dispensaries often double as head shops.[18]

Notably, in the state of Florida, items, "designed for use in ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing cannabis, cocaine, hashish, hashish oil, or nitrous oxide into the human body" are illegal, while "pipes primarily made of briar, meerschaum, clay, or corn cob" are legal.[19][20]

To combat drug paraphernalia laws, head shops place signs stating that the products sold are "for tobacco use only" or "not for use with illegal substances".[21] In many head shops, a sign will be posted (and often reiterated verbally) stating that customer references regarding the use of the shop's products for illegal drug use will result in suspension of all sales for that time period, and/or removal of the customer from the shop. In some shops, simply saying the word "bong" is grounds for removal from the shop.[1]

Smart shops[edit]

Main article: Smart shop

Smart shops are shops, prominently found in the Netherlands, which sell psychoactive substances in addition to the drug paraphernalia found in head shops.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pela, Robert L (16 February 2006). "Head Games". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Christopher, Rob; Neil Montgomery (2009). "A Cannabis Chronology". UKCIA.org. The United Kingdom Cannabis Internet Activists www.offyourheadshop.com. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Juanis, J.C. (2004). "Allen Cohen 1940-2004". SFHeart.com. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  4. ^ Henderson, Jennifer. "Beloved activist in Valley dies". Point Reyes Light. Tomales Bay Publishing Company. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  5. ^ Smith, Howard. "Scenes". Village Voice, June 23, 1966.
  6. ^ Goodwin, Mike. "Youngsters of All Ages Free to Browse Among Hashish Pipes, Obscene Comic Books and Posters." Los Angeles Times, Apr. 9, 1972, pg. SF A1.
  7. ^ a b "Dramatic increase in 'head shops'". RTÉ. 2010-01-26.
  8. ^ "'Head shops' booming as row rages over legal highs". Sunday Independent. By Aislinn hughes. Sunday February 07 2010.
  9. ^ "€500,000 cash found in Dublin 'head shop' after fire". Irishtimes.com. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  10. ^ Sligo head shop & adult store damaged in fire, RTÉ News, 11 March 2010
  11. ^ 'Head shops' target of pipe bomb attack Irish Independent 2010-03-11.
  12. ^ Garda superintendent slams "reckless" pipe bomb act Westmeath Independent, 2010-03-18.
  13. ^ Fire breaks out at head shop in Dundalk, Irish Times 16 April 2010
  14. ^ S.I. No. 401/2010 — Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 (Commencement) Order 2010. Irish Statute Book. 2010-08-17.
  15. ^ Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 Irish Statute Book.
  16. ^ Derienzo, Paul (14 September 2005). "Why we all can't just get a bong". Anchorage Press. Archived from the original on April 5, 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  17. ^ Ove, Torsten; Ernie Hoffman (26 February 2003). "Head shops remain open after taking hit from U.S.". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  18. ^ Dai, Serena (4 August 2013). "Smoke Shops Want To Become Dispensaries In Chicago On Heels Of Medical Weed Legalization". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Florida HB 49: Drug Paraphernalia Chapter 2013-111 [1]
  20. ^ Berman, Matt (6 June 2013). "Florida: Say Goodbye to Your Bongs". National Journal. Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  21. ^ "Language Policy". Knuckleheads Tobacco & Gifts. Retrieved 11 November 2013.