Hidden among the brunch spots and local vendors in the streets of downtown Las Vegas is a glass shop unlike any other. Dripping with art, the building stands out amongst the developing area of white-bricked shops. Jason Harris, the creator of Jerome Baker Designs, resides here in his glass factory and art gallery. Though the shop has only stood here for a few years, its colorful history goes back almost two decades.
This February marks 19 years since Harris made cannabis history. In February of 2003, Harris was arrested for creating and selling cannabis paraphernalia along with Tommy Chong and 53 others. The nationwide investigation, known as Operation Pipe Dreams, took place after local law enforcement showed reluctance to get involved with the sale of products associated with an illegal substance.
For any cannabis consumer who loves glass, the event represents a tragedy turned to triumph. Seeing the return of Jerome Baker Designs over the last decade is a triumph. The tragedy remains that cannabis is at the mercy of the government or whatever social hierarchy the world answers to. As we roll past this anniversary, let’s celebrate Harris’ triumph; but, at the same time, let’s talk about how we can stop this from happening.
HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ART
Similar to Cookies, JBD has a strong following that has sustained even in its decade-long absence. Today, his name evokes nostalgia and excitement from new and old fans. Aside from seeing the vintage-looking stickers and skate decks in shops, not many people know much about the famed glassblower. He actually started his world-renowned brand in the late 90s, well before the Green Rush took any kind of hold. Harris apprenticed in Oregon under Bob Snodgrass, the man credited for creating the first bong, before starting Jerome Baker Designs. The intent was to scientifically design pieces that were not only highly effective but beautiful enough to get lost in.
With friends, just as in love with glass as he was, JBD took off, winning the 1996 High Times Cannabis Cup for Best Product. In the years after, JBD won numerous High Times awards while providing one-of-a-kind glass for all walks of life. You may have even seen his work at the Cannabis Museum at the Neonopolis complex in Downtown Las Vegas. He created the world’s largest bong to showcase in the now-closed weed wonderland! Unfortunately, Operation Pipe Dreams was on the horizon.
OPERATION PIPE DREAMS
In the years following, it was discovered the operation was very much a power move, naming Tommy Chong, his connections to cannabis, and his feelings on the current drug policy as probable cause. To combat the anti-drug war rhetoric, the investigation was launched targeting any and everyone remotely associated. While Harris didn’t spend as long as Chong did incarcerated, he was one of many who had their livelihood stolen from them in the process.
After a year under house arrest and five more years of federal probation, Harris moved to Hawaii to pick up the pieces of his business and start again. This time, however, he had to think around the laws that got him arrested in the first place. Harris recounts the time, recalling his friends inviting him into their studios to make pieces. Simultaneously, he took a pivot into skate culture, preserving the buzz around his art in his official absence. He continued working on building his brand back and perfecting his art until that fateful day when recreational legalization finally came to the US. 2003 marked the year that Harris lost everything; 2012 however, was the year that things began to turn around.
MAKING AN EXAMPLE
Colorado legalized and a handful of states followed in the years after. Harris saw an opportunity and brought a property just a few miles from where numerous trade shows take place in Las Vegas. Using his old contacts and new ones built throughout his time away, he opened the doors of his headquarters, The Dream Factory, just outside of the Art District in downtown Las Vegas. These days, Harris can be regularly found at local events, in a sesh circle with your favorites. His demeanor is what you’d expect of anyone in our industry. He’s calm and cool, regardless of the reputation and stem in our plant’s culture and history. Still, he embodies a part of our community just as beautiful as the art he creates.
In Harris’ case, the tragedy that I mentioned was that the government thought they could stop an industry and community with these arrests. Tommy Chong was singled out in the operation, landing him in federal prison for nine months to prevent his son and wife from prosecution. Harris was among some fifty others who lost their businesses and some rights with their arrest.
In hindsight, the arrest only propelled Chong further into cannabis fame. You could say, it helped create an aura of mystery around JBD as well. Still, it’s far too often that those within cannabis are judged and treated far more harshly in situations that call for justice. Even in recent years, situations like that of Harris and Operation Pipe Dreams haven’t stopped. The triumph in it all is their survival and to see Jerome Baker Designs thriving today. The tragedy is that these sudden obstacles shouldn’t be happening at all.
Las Vegas was recently visited by a pro-cannabis senate candidate whose thoughts on the matter continue to bounce around my head. In the state of Louisiana, numerous political races were won off the bare minimum of votes. Plenty of powerful seats in the state were taken with the bare minimum of voter activity. The point being, decisions for the betterment of cannabis can be made with a small unified community. Our collective voices, despite how niche, can fight against policies and individuals who push for the “Operation Pipe Dreams” and “Anslingers” of today. Together, unified, we can expect better from the government when it comes to cannabis.
But until then, let’s all raise some smoke to our resident glass master and his Dream Factory that paved the way for numerous cannabis dreams. Visit the Dream Factory at 721 S 1st Street or check out any of JBD’s designs online here.