A 50-Year-Old Pipe Company Is Bringing Retro Back to Stoner Culture
A new generation of cannabis enthusiasts is ditching environmentally-unfriendly weed tech and embracing classic, sustainable alternatives.
Published on September 22, 2023

Proto Pipe, one of America's oldest pipe manufacturers, is inspiring a new generation of weed lovers to connect with California’s long history of cannabis culture.

Step into any adult-use dispensary today, and a dazzling array of high-tech gadgetry will greet you. Vapes, dab rigs, oil infusers, and e-nails have largely replaced the selection of bongs and glassware found at an old-school head shop. These new products offer a wide variety of convenient alternatives to the discerning cannabis consumer, but there's a distinct downside to this new wave of tech.

Many vapes and portable dabbers are designed to be thrown out after the built-in cart is exhausted. Plastic products with rechargeable batteries generally can't be recycled, so most of these disposable products make their way to landfills, where they leak toxic chemicals into the soil. The vast majority of this tech is made overseas, and some of the cheapest alternatives on the market even contain toxic heavy metals and other contaminants.


As a whole, cannabis users tend to fall on the eco-friendly end of the spectrum, and the dearth of disposable tech gadgets has sparked a need for a less toxic alternative. Some responsible stoners have taken to rolling their own joints out of hemp paper, while others prefer to buy bowls or pipes that will last for decades. 

This return to old-fashioned, sustainable methods of cannabis consumption has rekindled interest in Proto Pipe, a small California business that has been making handcrafted smoking accessories for 50 years. The company’s founder, Phil Jergenson believed in creating a timeless, high-quality, and functional smoking instrument to make your smoking experience exceptional.

The Proto Pipe Classic, which is still being sold today, has earned a reputation as the “Swiss Army Knife” of pipes. It features a bowl made of solid brass, a permanent screen, and a swiveling lid that can snuff out burning herb and prevent unwanted smells. There’s also a stash pod, a bowl tamper, and a poker that can clean both the screen and the pipe stem. And unlike disposable vapes, this sturdy bowl is designed to last a lifetime.

The simplicity of this handmade pipe hearkens back to a day of vinyl records, audiophile stereo systems, and lava lamps. The classic design can bring back some nostalgia for OG heads, but younger generations are also warming up to the simplicity of bygone years. Stepping back from the modern world of disposable gadgetry has also helped younger people better understand California’s decades-long history as the epicenter of cannabis culture.

Proto Pipe has always marketed itself as a tobacco pipe, but that didn't stop local California pot enthusiasts of the day from quickly figuring out that the pipe was the perfect fit for their herb of choice. Jergenson and his brother Richard found immediate success selling the first version of the pipe, then called the Contrivance, in San Francisco's thriving Mission District. In 1976, the brothers came up with a new design and a new name, a portmanteau of “prototype pipe.” At its heyday, the company produced 200 pipes a day and sold them all across the country.

A decade later, the mounting aggressiveness of the War on Drugs eventually convinced the brothers to sell their company to a friend. That sale came with a catch, though – the buyer promised to return the company to its original owners if weed ever became legal. California finally legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016, and the Jergensons eventually regained control of their business in 2018. The original team is back in their former warehouse, making the same pipe they made 50 years ago, with a few new designs to boot.

Proto Pipe’s return to form is great news for anyone, young or old, who needs to take a break from modern, disposable pop culture. So pack a Proto with your favorite herb, spark it up, flip the record over, and chill.

*This was written in collaboration with Proto Pipe

MERRY JANE is based in Los Angeles, California and is dedicated to elevating the discussion around cannabis culture.
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