Why Can’t You Say Bong In a Smoke Shop?

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    Why Is Saying Bong In Most Smoke Shops Banned?

    I remember recently going to a local head shop, in Vegas with a few friends. As I was walking through the door I mentioned “bong”, and I was told to not mention bong or I would be kicked out. After doing my shopping and leaving I began to wonder, why can’t you say the “B” word at a smoke shop? After doing a bit of research, I found that there is an interesting history of why bong or mentioning other paraphrenia is prohibited in most legal smoke shops.

    What This Article Will Examine

    This article will examine both federal and state drug paraphernalia laws. Additionally, I will also address how online headshops are able to sell a hand pipe, hookah, bong, bubbler, or other smoking devices, in what seems like little restriction on their online headshop.

    Federal Laws RuleThe US federal government laws, under the Supremecy Clause override states laws. This means that the feds can override a states laws. An example of this is that weed is illegal federally and the federal government can raid and arrested all employees at legal dispenseries and growing operations.

    State Drug Paraphernalia Laws Are The Reason

    Each state has its own laws concerning cannabis possession. As an example, weed is legal, for all purposes in Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada, and several other US states. On the other hand, in other states, like Alabama, you could potentially be sentenced to a prison term of 20 years if you are arrested for possession of any amount of cannabis.

    These same varied laws also apply to drug paraphernalia. Many states though do have similar laws (some even closely mimicking the Us Governments Paraphernalia law) Two examples of state laws that make it unlawful to mention bongs or any type of drug paraphernalia in a shop are Alabama and Florida.

    Please note, my analysis of this “bong” and smoke shop (particularly, state law questions) question is not an all-encompassing white paper on this subject. Your state law may differ, and it is even possible that your state may allow you to mention bong and other words in your local tobacco smoke shop. This article is however an educated analysis (I am a licensed Attorney in Nevada) on the reason why saying the “B'” word may result in the smoke shop owner or worker kicking you out of his store.


    Alabama’s § 13A-12-260, governs the possession of drug paraphernalia. the state of Alabama outlaws the possessing- or selling of drug paraphernalia if you know that will be used for:

    (s)moking, injecting, growing, planting, manufacturing, producing, processing, storing, or packaging controlled substances.”


    Florida has similar laws, that ban advertising or selling drug paraphernalia. Florida’s law also is very close to federal law.

    Do Not Assume It is Legal Even If Your State Has Legalized Recreational or Medical Marijuana

    In Nevada, weed is legal for medical and recreational use. However, it is a felony, in Nevada, to sell paraphernalia. and a misdemeanor to possess drug paraphernalia. As a Nevada resident, this is news to me as I have bought numerous pipes and bongs at my local dispensary. So, the moral of the story is to not ASSUME anything.

    What does All This mean?

    Under both Alabama and Florida laws, it is a crime to possess or sell paraphernalia if you have knowledge that it will be used for illegal purposes. By mentioning words, like “Bong” that are commonly used in marijuana culture, you are telling a smoke shop that you are going to use their water pipe for cannabis and not tobacco.

    This means that a smoke shop is likely following the state law if you are escorted out of their store.

    Drug Paraphernalia, Online Smoke Shop, and The Feds

    The typical online headshop does not even try to hide that they are selling marijuana paraphernalia. This is surprising as US Federal laws, explicitly ban all drug paraphernalia across state lines or in interstate commerce.*

    *The Us Constitutions Commerce clause allows the Federal US government to make laws and regulate commerce between states and also countries.

    At First Glance, Under US Legal Code Title 21 Section 863, it is a no-brainer that you cannot ship your bongs to another state. However, this is surprisingly not so.

    What Is Considered To Be Paraphanelia By The Feds?

    The feds define paraphernalia as a device that is primarily intended to be used concealing, producing, preparing, inhaling, ingesting, or injecting a controlled substance into a human body. The law then specifically mentions several types of drug paraphernalia, some of which are listed below:

    • Hookah
    • Water Pipe
    • Hand Pipe Chillums
    • Carburetion tubes and devices., a typical one-hitter pipe

    And last but not but least the bong.

    What Does This All Mean?

    At first glance, under federal law, it seems clearly illegal if a bong shop or even a vape shop sells a specialized heady glass bong, vaporizer, or glass pipe, to another state or country. (Assuming the store does not try to hide their bong or other goods by calling them a water piper or only mention tobacco on their website)

    The law on this, however, isn’t clear as it seems. In 2002, it was quite clear that the US Department of Justice, under John Ashcroft will aggressively prosecute merchants that sell any drug paraphernalia across state lines. Operation Pipe Dreams was the task force where Ashcroft arrested 50+ bong shop merchants for selling paraphernalia to other states. Only one person arrested severed jail time. That person was Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame.

    Why Can Online Smoke Shops That Mention Bong Or Other Weed Terms Allowed To sell Online?

    This is a good question because as of 2021 there are hundreds of companies that smell weed paraphernalia online. These manufacturers and stores also blatantly mentioned that their goods are designed for a marijuana smoker.

    A prime example of this is Smoke Cartel, which on their front page, explicitly lists that they sell bongs and even a dab rig.

    My best-educated guess is that the reason bongs are allowed to be sold across state lines is because of the exception, in 21 Section 863(8)(f), that allows drug paraphernalia to be sold in interstate commerce by ANY person authorized by the local state or federal law to make, possesses and sell or give away drug paraphernalia as 21 Section 863. So, based upon this exception, if your state allows you to sell glass bongs, the federal government, will, in turn, allow you to sell your bongs to another state or to a foreign country.

    Final Thoughts

    In summary, the likely reason for the “B” word being prohibited in a smoke shop is your local or state law on paraphernalia. As an example, Florida and Alabama both specifically prohibit selling any “smoking device” when known that it will be used to smoke the devil’s lettuce. And, even in Nevada, which has legalized weed, it is a category E felony to sell paraphernalia. So, to be safe, if possible buy your bong online or at your neighborhood dispensary. And if you must go to a smoke shop, be nice and just get what you want and leave.


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