Pictures by Joanna “JoJoSnaps” Miriam @thejojosnaps
When you meet Jason Harris, founder of Jerome Baker Designs, one of the leading manufacturers of bongs and bubblers on planet earth, he’s often in an irie mood. “Coming to you live and direct from Maui,” he might start an early morning conversation. “Waves are pumping out there, the sun’s just creeping over the mountains. It’s 7AM, and I am ready to rock.”
He might then start talking about island life, too. He lives on Maui. “Many-a-tourist wishes to hit the ground partying here,” he explains. “But, the island is a ‘dead stop’ for that. We go to bed at 8 or 9 pm, and we wake up at 5:00AM. It’s big surfing, outdoor, sun-friendly vibe. No titty bars.”
Weed is legal for medicinal use on the island, he assures. Plus, he’ll happily inform you, you can bring a medical card from a different state, too, and they’ll take it in Hawaii. “And, the reality is, when you’re at the beach and you see the guy with the dreadlocks, you go hit him up for a dime bag. You can get some good chronic over here, no problem. Most of the bellhops on the island are also selling cannabis.”
Jason knows this from experience. And there are few people with the experience he has amassed over the course of his thirty years at the helm of Jerome Baker Designs (JBD). He’s made nug jugs for Snoop Dogg, George Clooney, Slayer, 311, and many other celebrities. People who have been in the cannabis space for decades know who Jason is, and they know his work. Most recently, he made the world’s biggest bong in 2019 and dubbed it “Bongzilla.” Displayed on Fremont Street for an entire year, the piece, which is 24 feet tall, requires an elevator in order to get to the top and take a hit.
Operation Pipe Dreams
Jason started making glass pipes in 1991. He started the company from a college dorm room, and, by 1999, was doing $4 million a year and had 70 employees in Eugene, Oregon based out of multiple warehouses on what Jason refers to as “a mini campus” for making bongs. “It was like a Willy Wonka bong factory,” he recalls. Low and behold, he was being investigated by the feds in what turned out to be a two-year investigation of 55 people around the country. Things changed quickly for the “tobacco” glass industry.
“They considered us the largest paraphernalia manufacturers in the world,” says Harris. “And, in 2003—February 23, to be exact—I was arrested along with all those 55 people.” The feds called it “Operation Pipe Dreams” and “Operation Headhunter.”
“When I was in my little jail cell in Eugene, Oregon, looking up through the chicken wire fence at the TV, I saw on there John Ashcroft coming live from the White House telling America how he had knocked the biggest paraphernalia dealers out of the race there,” said Jason. In his speech, Ashcroft put it like this:
It is troubling enough for parents to realize that stores with these illegal products may be operating in their neighborhoods. But it is even more frightening when parents understand that with a click of a mouse, a child’s room or college dorm room could become the showroom in which drug paraphernalia merchants can advertise, market and sell illegal products. On February 24, Ashcroft spoke to the press, stating:
To give you an idea of some of these products, consider one such popular item on a website – “sneaky pipes.” “Sneaky pipes” are marijuana pipes that are concealed inside of everyday items a student might use, such as highlighting markers, key chains, or flashlights or even in makeup items such as lipstick or mascara. Principals and teachers have frequently reported the seizure of such items.
Another alarming product on these websites: drugs that are marketed to help a drug user pass – or more precisely “beat” — a drug test. These web pages not only offer the products, but also give detailed instructions on which products will mask which drugs and when the user should take them in order to pass the test. On some of these websites, the target consumers include pilots, truck drivers, machine operators, and bus drivers.
JeromeBaker.com, the main website for JBD, was confiscated. A message put on it by the DEA read: “By application of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the website you are attempting to visit has been restrained by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853 (e)(1)(a).
Once out of jail, Jason’s first call was to Tommy Chong, who had been arrested during the same sting and also caught a murder accusation.
“Tommy’s a good friend of mine,” said Harris. “We spend a lot of time together even to this day.” Right before Operation Pipe Dreams went live, John Ashcroft had put curtains over the Spirit of Justice, a 1933 cast aluminum statue depicting Lady Justice that stands on display along with its male counterpart Majesty of Justice in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C.. He did so to cover her naked body up.
“So, the Administration was using the justice system to make a political statement,” said Jason.
“Certain Powers That Be believe that Adam and Eve were the first two humans on earth and they want to make sure that we run a clean show here.” After Jason was arrested, he had to pivot. He launched Maui Glass Designs, making what he calls “non-functional glass”; that is, you can’t smoke out of it. “They told me, ‘you’re never allowed to make this bong again out of glass,” explains Jason. “And I’m like, ‘Well, what the fuck.’” He knew how to make glass and that’s what he was going to do. “I moved to Maui to make turtles and whales and shit like that for tourists.”
He explains his pitch: “It’s always the guys out playing golf, and I’m dealing with a lonely wife in the lobby of the Four Seasons. And I always tell her the same thing, you know, ‘Fuck the Rolex, he doesn’t need that this trip. We need to get you a wave that sits on a light. And when it sits at your house, it sits on that light. And every time you look at the wave, it reminds you of your trip to Maui. And when you have your friends over for dinner, you can tell them where you got this awesome piece of glass art, and send them my way.”
After Pipe Dreams, Harris also stayed alive in the pipe glass underground. “I had a warehouse in New York City that a friend loaned to me,” he said. “I sold Underground to friends of mine that had shopped all over the world basically and made some cash to keep the kids fed with groceries until this new time—this new paradigm—which is the legalization of cannabis.”
Harris recalls visiting Las Vegas in 2017 or 2018. “I was out in Vegas, and cannabis was just about to become legal,” he said. “When it did in Las Vegas, I came out of the closet so to say. I opened my warehouse there, and now we have a studio, and employees in Vegas.” He also obtained a permit to operate a paraphernalia manufacturing business in the city of Las Vegas.
Things began looking up for the cannabis industry nationwide, though there’s still uncertainty. “The fact is the laws have never changed on a federal level,” said Harris. “It’s still illegal to manufacture and distribute the bong. It’s been judged that it’s specifically used for smoking marijuana by one of the Supreme Court judges in the early 90s.”
For Jason, being able to come out of the closet in the city limits in Las Vegas, and having that permit, is an incredible gesture from the local government. “It’s incredible empowerment for me to make the paraphernalia—and we make some of the best bongs in the world.”
For instance, JBD makes all of Tommy Chong’s pieces now. JBD also received an initial seed investment from Merida Capital, one of the largest venture capital firms in cannabis at this point. They own the most assets in cannabis.
A New Cannabis Paradigm
Jason enjoys a certain level of notoriety or street cred from having been arrested during Operation Pipe Dreams. It’s helped him put Jerome Baker Designs back on the map selling both glass and a variety of other products, including premium Humboldt-grown cannabis.
“I started doing this in 1991,” said Jason. “There weren’t any other glassblowers at the time. So, all the major drug dealers in the world were flying me to their houses to bring them these pipes. They would literally put the pipe on the scale and give me 10 bucks a gram for it. And this is before there was a lot of pipes out there.”
Nowadays, it’s a major business. “We do work on a global level. And we have these really cool components, which is manufacturing, cannabis apparel, skateboards—the whole thing now.” Harris finds himself once again at the tip of the sword. “The rules change daily,” he said. “We have new red tape, lawyers—all this stuff changes daily.”
In order to maneuver a constantly evolving terrain, Harris has learned to just ask questions. “If I want to go do a deal with a cannabis thing, it’s like a normal business now, where you’re gonna ask your question. They’re gonna read it, and, if they okay it, their lawyers are gonna check it out and change some things, and then we’re gonna read it, and if we like it, we give it to our lawyers, and they changed some things, and then give it back to them.”
In the cannabis industry, you’ve seen how those at the tip of the spear have gotten the arrows in their back, Jason points out. They still are, in many ways. “We watch a lot of newbies come into the cannabis industry, with a lot of money, but that are naive. They can take that money up and get shot down and die. And the old school guys take those things over.”
Jason makes glass, but he sees himself as primarily a businessman. “99% of what I’m doing is business,” he said. “The 1% in the glass is my meditation. If I’m able to go blow glass, I’m privileged and lucky. I’ve done everything else right to get to that point to sit back with a joint and make art.”
Jerome Baker Greens
JBD recently launched in California a new product line, Jerome Baker Greens, with a planned expansion into Nevada and Missouri. “It’s been a very tricky game,” admits Jason. “You get influenced and teased with the money, and most of the money’s coming from people that aren’t so well-versed in this world of cannabis. Number one, it’s been about understanding the plant, understanding what the lifestyle is, and the people that deal with the plant, and how it all works.”
Many people enter the cannabis industry to make a quick buck. “There’s so many people that have come over into cannabis from some rando industry or even people that didn’t respect the plant before they were able to get into the business and now want to, all of a sudden, exploit it and make money from it. And, it’s just not going to work for them. Everyone who has a connection with the cannabis plant knows that.”
The cannabis industry remains grounded despite the entry of Big Industry. “I would imagine it’s similar to hops. All these hop farmers up in Idaho, and how they have gotten in the game, and some of them have been in the game a long time, and they control the industry. That’s what’s going on here in the cannabis industry, and we have so much further to go. It’s such an open space for people that understand business and understand the plant.”
Jason couldn’t be more excited about entering into the flower market. “I know some of the growers of some of the best known cannabis strains,” said Jason. “And so, now my old friends—guys I go way back with at Earth Green and Earl Hill Extracts—have teamed up to provide California with some of the very best flower known to man.”
JBD first branched out from bongs and apparel with a line of premium CBD products, including salves, isolates, tinctures, and vapor cartridges. The company even produced CBD for pets. “Our goal was always to expand beyond CBD into the recreational cannabis market,” said Jason.
Jason labored over many years to find the right strains, set up production, and distribution of the premium quality cannabis he dreamed of offering under the JBD brand. “I first tasted the best buds from my best buds,” he says. “We then worked tirelessly to make sure we could deliver on all fronts—packaging, distribution, buds, terpenes, you name it.”
Jason says this turned out to be a multi-year process and a group effort. “But, we pulled it off and I couldn’t personally be more stoked,” said Jason.
The Intersection of Cannabis & Crypto
Jason feels blessed to be part of the cannabis industry. His past experience with the Feds has opened his mind up to innovative ways of doing business. For instance, he began accepting Bitcoin shortly after the digital currency was released. “I was privileged enough to have a friend of mine that was in on it, and we trade bongs for bitcoins straight across the board. And the last one that I traded was when Bitcoin was at $700.”
Jason’s client gave him the Bitcoin. “It might have taken me two or three months to make him this killer bong, and by the time I did, it was at $7,000,” said Jason. “Well, that was the last one that I got straight across to trade for.”
And now, with the advent of NFT’s, Jason has received many calls over the past year. “Hey, let’s do an NFT,” a friend or colleague in the industry will say. “As I start getting the calls, of course I want to embrace it, and really figure it out and how we can have it coordinate with the glass,” said Jason. The first thing he does is ask people who come to him if they have an NFT.
“That’s the first question I want to ask anybody who starts to ask me about NFT’s,” said Jason. “Do you have it on your wallet, and some of them will backpedal right there, and realize that’s their first move. After that, when we’re moving down the line here is, where’s the climax when you buy your NFT? What happens when you buy the NFT? When I buy my new shirt, and I put it on, smell it, I have that climax feeling. Where is that with the NFT?”
JBD just signed a deal with a group out of New York called Super Chief Gallery. “Edward over at Superchief is a really good friend of mine,” said Jason. “He’s somebody on the street selling NFT’s who understands the market. He is connected directly with artists producing these really cool NFT’s, and gets us a little closer to the climax.”
Jason plans on doing an NFT-based line of glass bong pieces connected to NFTs, which act as the certificate of authenticity for the piece. In launching NFTs, Jason says he is considering most of all the NFT buyer’s experience, as well as how the NFT holds long-term value.
“So, the buyer has a bong. The beauty is in the fragility: this thing can break at any moment. But, I have the NFT on hand, and the NFT is going to allow them to get a remake of it from me if they ever need to.” As well, the NFT offers a connection to the blockchain with a value on the artwork, says Jason.
“Now, let’s say I die, and let’s say that the bongs start to break and there’s only a couple left,” said Jason. “Those couple left will have more value because they’re only the couple left out of that particular series. And even the person who doesn’t have the bong anymore, because they broke it, they’ll have the NFT, which has a little value in the series of artwork play.” Glass is one of the perfect mediums for NFTs, he says.
Jason is super stoked to be a part of the NFT universe. “It’s been a whole unfolding and unveiling of this new currency-artwork-collectible format that we as the youth—as la Resistance—control. It makes it that much more empowering for the people. I believe NFTs give the people some control back.”
Jason has been an artist since the 1980s. He has seen how technology can help artists. The internet has made it so he doesn’t have to give galleries half of his proceeds anymore to host his artwork. “Before I would have to go take all my shit and put it in a gallery and wait for it to sell to even get half my money,” he recalls. “Now people can come straight to me online and get some work from me. I still have the choice to go to a gallery, but it is not a prerequisite to connecting with the art connoisseur. The internet has put a lot more power in my hands as an artist, and NFTs are no doubt quadrupling the power in the hands of the artist.”
Jason sees the magic of everything as the process of creation, including with the NFTs. “And whoever gets these NFT bongs, when the mothership lands, it’s the key to get in the door, so they’re gonna be able to go with it.”
Jason sees 99% of being a good artist as being a good salesperson. “I live my whole life as an art concept. Life is a big backgammon game. I’m just trying to have some fun and see as many bikinis and surf as many waves as I can during the day.”
Jason tries to use his story to inspire others. “I had my Escalade with 22” rims. I had the BMWs. I owned my house at the top of the hill in Eugene. And, in one morning, I had nothing anymore, because of the nature of what I was doing. The Feds took everything, even JeromeBaker.com, which I one day purchased back from the Feds in an auction.”
He built it back, and now JBD has done $20 million in revenue since its founding. It’s all been worth it. Jason loves what he does.
“I’ve been to jail for what I love, and what I believe in. It has taken me many, many, many years to get back on my feet and to where I am today,” he said. “But, in reality, it’s been all about being first on court and last off the court. We can lie in bed or we can go and thrive and charge at it. If you don’t have art supplies, you take sticks, and you make shit. You tie grass leaves together to make things if you must. Whatever it is, it’s about creation, inspiring others, and work.”
That’s where Jason is at these days mentally. Physically, he spends a lot of time in Vegas, where the JBD headquarters is situated in a mellow section of downtown, away from the flashing lights and sounds of the strip. The JBD Headquarters, known as the Las Vegas Dream Factory, is a 5,000 square foot studio on Fremont Street in the Arts District of Las Vegas. When you walk in, the building screams of JBD’s brand. It is colorful, vibrant, and comfortable. He often hosts podcasters, such as Adam Dunn, as well as XM radio hosts, like Big Steve Parish. He even hosts his own podcast at The Las Vegas Dream Factory, called Bakercast.
“It is a neutral zone where anybody can come, do projects, have fun, create artwork or whatever happens,” said Jason. “We show off the pieces in the galleries, and it’s super cool to have people over.”
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