I moved to Houston in August 2014 and I was without a job for 3 months. I applied for work at a local headshop. A “headshop” or “smokeshop” is a place where you can purchase everything from legal tobacco to tools used to smoke drugs. At face value, many would think that the shop only sold marijuana paraphernalia and hookah. HOWEVER, I quickly learned that the shops sold much more. And these are some other observations I made in my time there:
1) Drug Users Aren’t a Monolith:
During one of my shifts, I noticed a 2015 BMW pull in. Pearl white, white LED lights, clean rims. Beautiful car. Older white man, 50+ years, steps out the car in a RL button-up, khakis, and Sperry’s. Immediately I thought it was a cop. The only noticeable issue was the twitch in his right hand. He approached the counter and asked for a “Brown Bag Special”, a package which included a piece of copper and a crack pipe. THIS OLD WHITE MAN WAS SMOKING CRACK! He didn’t look like any crackhead I’ve ever seen.
We used to have teenagers(18+ of course) who’d come and buy oil burners to smoke meth. Sweet old white ladies bought small pipes for marijuana. Guessing what each customer was there for was part of the job’s fun.
2) People Will Ask for Illegal Drugs
If you’ve never been in a headshop, know that you’re not supposed to mention any illegal drugs. You’ll be asked to leave.
Until 2014, you could actually purchase synthetic drugs in Texas. Shops could pay $2000 per bag found in the building. After the ban, our shop placed signs on the store front “Synthetics are illegal. Don’t ask or you will be asked to leave.” And of course people still asked.
During my shift, an old Buick pulled up. An old man slowly got out and reached for his walker in the back seat. It took him all of 5 minutes to get to me. When I asked what I could help with, he reached in his pocket, unfolds a list, “Do you have Scooby Snacks…” and before he could finish(he had at least 5 names on the list) I told him that we didn’t sell synthetic products. He didn’t say another word and took 3 minutes to get back to his car.
Most people who asked for synthetic weed had jobs that drug-tested. They didn’t care for the horror stories but they needed SOMETHING. I learned that everybody had their fix. I just didn’t know how specific it could be…
3) People Like their Drugs Certain Ways
I used to think people used drugs and didn’t care how but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some users had certain methods they used.
One young white woman bought the same brand of Raspberry Cream cigarillos BY THE BOX(30 cigars) regularly. When I asked why, she said she smokes reggie(low grade weed) back-to-back after she leaves her job as a nurse. She once had a B.F. when we had sold out of the Raspberry Creams. She even offered to pay for a pre-order.
She seemed to have no shame…
4) Some People are Ashamed/Hiding
…but some people do. It’s 2016 and marijuana is legal in more than half the states in some form. There’s information open to the public that dispels the myths created by the War on Drugs but the drug stigmas still exist. And different users have their characteristics:
Stoners- takes time in the store looking for something cool or useful.
Methheads- Act like they’re looking for one thing for 10 minutes, ask about other things for 5 minutes, then ask for an oil burner, then says “That’s what I’m looking for.”
Crackheads- Want to be in and out. They don’t linger.
5) There’s Creativity and Innovation All Around
The store was not immune to dealers. We sold scales, substances used to cut cocaine, small baggies, amongst other items. Not to mention their clientele was in our store. Some of these dealers would come to the store with things I’d never seen and you don’t hear about.
One dealer came in to buy cigarillos. Before he left, he mentioned that he’s moving THC-INFUSED LEAN. That is weed mixed with lean. Can you say “no thank you?”
Aside from the dealers, some of the users were very creative. One day, an old man who looked like he goes to bars to pray on young women created the most elaborate conversation for 20 minutes just to ask if we had synthetic weed(we don’t). I know this because within 2 minutes after my coworker and I told him how dangerous it was and that we don’t sell it, he left.
People give users a hard time because they use but the gifts these people possess are undeniable.
6) Undercover Cops and Crime
You may be asking if the business is legal and how none of these people were jailed.
Well, we did have undercover policemen in the store all of time. They’re not hard to spot. Normally a fit and bald black man, or an older gentleman who’s in the store looking super focused to buy his hookah stick, or the young white guy blatantly talking about illegal substances in the store.
Most of the time, they left us alone. Maybe the owners were paying them under the table. But the cops were never an issue.
Working in the store opened my eyes to the REAL world of drug use. It’s very diverse. Dr. Carl Hart once said that there are “crackhead CEOs”. Not every user is an addict. Not every user is trying to hide. And not every user comes from poverty and stress. Like some people exercise, drink, or write, some people use drugs to take the edge off of life. We all have our own vices.