Introduction: Cannabis Culture Museum & Archive

Introduction: Cannabis Culture Museum & Archive

- Words by Richard Jergenson

I first smoked cannabis in 1968 in between seeing the performances of Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Led Zeppelin band. Smoking cannabis was an act of rebellion against the establishment. While the media demonized it, those of us who partook quickly found out we had been brainwashed into believing it was evil. If they were lying to us about something as simple as smoking this plant then what else were they lying to us about. And so it began, in 1970 my brother Phil had recently designed and fabricated a unique smoking pipe that he called the contrivance. He moved from Denver to San Francisco to launch this pipe dream. San Francisco was the epicenter for the growing youth movement. Once he had found/created a live/work shop space he called and invited me to join him. I dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco. Little did I know what a journey that would become. For the better part of the next 8 years we lived and manufactured pipes in San Francisco and in Berkeley, another haven for youth in the growing counterculture. I began to be an archivist, saving and storing the most amazing posters, books, and cultural icons, which became a lifelong passion. The undeclared war in Vietnam was part of this moment in time, as were the civil rights movement and political assassinations. Unlike many of my friends I was lucky and won the draft lottery that year -365. I would have been the last one called to duty. Many youth fled the country -Most went to college or university to sit it out. Others went to Canada, South America or even Europe to avoid getting drafted and going to Vietnam. Protests were happening everywhere and the youth culture was creating its place in history. For me, cannabis seemed to be the glue that helped to hold the movement together. The growing youth culture was becoming radicalized at the time and we seemed unstoppable. I began to collect flyers, books, news stories, and articles about us. I saved a lot of information, although most of my friends moved around and got rid of everything as they went. We continued to manufacture and sell the contrivance pipe. 

 I became a licensed Berkeley Street artist in 1974 on Telegraph Avenue and I also got my vendor's license to sell at the Embarcadero in San Francisco as well as Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf.

 Selling on the streets gave me a continuing big picture of how the culture was evolving. We lived and worked in several Warehouse and co-housing artists / inventor groups which were very edgy at the time. The University of California Berkeley attracted students from around the globe, a real Melting Pot of Youth.

 In 1975 We were ripped off of the pipe design and imitation pipes began showing up in head shops, record and waterbed stores. 

We brought on two new partners and rebranded The business with the name Protopipe. One of the partners was the illustrator/cartoonist Larry Todd who lent his considerable talent to crafting the Proto Pipe brand. The business grew exponentially as the synergy of the four of us working together caught the culture wave. Numerous sales trips were made up and down the West Coast as well as the midwest. We began more print advertising in various trade publications and beyond. Business was brisk and we had outgrown street sales. In 1979 we moved North to Mendocino County. In Mendo we lived in a grower's paradise, where you never ask anyone what they did for a living. Everyone was a potter, jeweler, or a carpenter. Our close friends included lots of pot growers. Many of the mom and pop homesteaders not only grew their own weed but inadvertently helped jump start the solar industry by buying solar panels for powering their remote homes in the mountains and woods. I continued collecting and archiving this rich history. In 1987 the Reagan Administration had created a new draconian law that would make exporting metal smoking pipes a felony. As law enforcement was unable to stop people from growing and smoking the plant they went after manufacturers such as ourselves. We did not want to be the poster child for this new law so we turned the business over to someone who continued to market the Proto Pipe as a tobacco pipe. As it turns out the law was completely unenforceable. And now as the back-to-the-land culture is rapidly disappearing due to post cannabis legalization growing laws and the fact that the Elders of this movement which came to be known as the counterculture are aging out and dying. We had an agreement that when legalization came we wanted the business back, however when that day came the agreement was not honored. Phil designed a new pipe taking the best features of the Proto pipe and adding a couple of new ones. As luck/fate/serendipity would have it we wound up back in our old shop space and were able to jump start the Proto pipe business and brand.

A turning point occurred when Phil's daughter Rona created a website. For the first time folks from around the world would be able to find and order their very own Protopipe. Through another miraculous circumstance Senior features writer for the Los Angeles (L.A.)Times Adam Tschorn found our website and after making initial contact visited and interviewed us and broke the story in October of 2021. This story can be found on the Proto pipe LLC webpage or visit LA Times Green Room Proto pipe.  

Today you can find me splitting my time between Proto Pipe, and curating the Counterculture Museum and Archive.  Be sure to stay tuned in the coming months as I share stories from the vault that are sure to strike a chord with many of our readers who were there to experience it for themselves or who may be curious as to those times. If you have any thoughts or questions don’t hesitate to drop a line.

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