Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times (@latimes) August 31, 2018
There are two flights of stairs curling around the head-turning glass bong, all 24 feet of it. There also will be an elevator to ferry people from the ground floor — where the pipe’s 100-gallon reservoir sits — to the mouthpiece high above.
It weighs more than 800 pounds and the bowl can pack a quarter of a pound of marijuana. It has elements in the glass that will make it glow — greenish mostly — while bathing in black light. Jason Harris, the artist who made it, said it’s his artistic opus to the cannabis culture.
“I make giant bongs,” he said. “They are my voice to make noise in the world.”
But to be heard and noticed on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas — where the bong is housed — is no small task.
It’s a sensory tsunami on Fremont, filled with street musicians playing “Stairway to Heaven” on electronic violins or steel drummers hammering out hits from the ’80s. There are screams from people shooting down a zip line above the street. Tribute bands blast metal music, and boozy packs of tourists point at half-naked men and women trying to lure them into posing for a picture.
And size matters, too.
Vegas Vic — the iconic neon cowboy — towers above a souvenir shop and stands 40 feet tall. There’s a giant pint of Guinness atop Hennessey’s that is 80 feet tall. Slotzilla, a slot machine perched in the middle of Fremont Street, reaches a height of 120 feet.
Harris saw it all as the perfect home for Bongzilla, as his creation has come to be known.
“Las Vegas will be the new Amsterdam of the world,” he said. “I see it as a big lighthouse and beacon that says, ‘Just smoke me.’”
But the 47-year-old knows that can’t happen in Las Vegas, at least not yet.
Though Nevada legalized recreational marijuana in 2017, it can only be consumed in a private residence. But it’s become a booming industry in the state, just the same.
This week, the Nevada Department of Taxation released numbers that showed that for the first full fiscal year, marijuana sales yielded tax collections totaling $69.8 million — 140% of what the state had forecast. Total sales — including medical marijuana and related goods — hit $529.9 million for the fiscal year.
Cannabition, the soon-to-open marijuana museum where the bong resides, is not a licensed dispensary, however. It sits on a leased spot of commercial space near a craft brewery and across from — conveniently for stoners — a Denny’s. The museum is scheduled to open officially in September.
Harris doesn’t really want any run-ins with the law — like that time in 2003 when he was arrested in a massive Justice Department raid dubbed Operation Pipe Dreams that also swept up actor Tommy Chong.
“At that point, I thought my bong-making career was over,” he said.
But by the time Colorado legalized recreational pot in 2012, he was back in the game, riding on his reputation as the founder of Jerome Baker Designs and crafting bongs — some as tall as 7 feet — as the world of cannabis culture grew more mainstream.
Bongzilla, Harris said, was a significant undertaking.
It took 15 people blowing glass eight hours a day — for four days — to make Bongzilla in a studio in Seattle. It then had to be disassembled, packed into special boxes and transported in a truck that wouldn’t draw a lot of attention. It was driven down Highway 95, a two-lane road that runs along Nevada’s western side through a smattering of small towns.
Harris said it seemed remarkable to him that the bong could travel by road through four states where the recreational use of marijuana is now legal — Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.
J.J. Walker, founder of Cannabition, said it took several days to reassemble Bongzilla and place it in its permanent home along the staircase. He said workers had to build a special clip to secure it to the railing so it won’t move. Reassembling the parts required a special bonding agent that would keep it intact while allowing smoke to flow freely through the tube.
They added a mural backdrop of Tokyo for Bongzilla’s display. No sign of Mothra, however.
Even though Bongzilla can’t legally be used to smoke weed, it was important to Walker and Harris that it work. Just in case.
Nevada state Sen. Tick Segerblom — a Democrat who is running for a seat on the Clark County Commission — said he envisions a day when people can take a hit off the enormous bong.
Segerblom, a longtime advocate for legalizing marijuana use more broadly, said when he first saw Bongzilla, it blew him away. He said the biggest bong he’d ever taken a hit on wasn’t even 2 feet high.
He said he’ll be attending the opening of Cannabition.
“It’s what we do best here, and it fits in well with our party and outlaw image,” Segerblom said. “But I’m also hoping it makes people aware that Las Vegas is the perfect place for the cannabis culture and, if we can pull this off, it will become a major focal point for us.”
© 2018 Los Angeles Times, www.latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC