The first head shop emerged in the late 1960s when marijuana use was on the rise, and when the emergence of psychedelic music and drugs also brought to the fore an aesthetic that would become synonymous with cannabis culture – with tie dye prints, black lighting, and subversive animation by the likes of Robert Crumb and National Lampoon magazine. “Tripping out” was no longer just something to do, it was a lifestyle, and this lifestyle grew into a lasting movement bent on free thinking and social change.
This was the age of the hippie, and shops became hot spots for a rising counterculture that was centered largely on music and drug use, but beneath that was a new spirit to challenge the conventional wisdom handed down from their parents. The over-the-top anti marijuana propaganda they had been raised on was already being considered laughable, so experimenting with weed was a natural inclination for those getting used to questioning authority.
While this inclination to question authority was something that was blossoming all over the country, most cities and small towns were basically able to tamp such movements down, or at least relegate them to the underground. Puritanical laws and attitudes kept the existence of head shop mostly limited to a few coastal cities in the United States.
By all accounts, the first shop emerged from San Francisco’s legendary Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, a birthplace for hippie culture writ large. Not far behind, similar types of stores followed suit in likeminded neighborhoods, like New York’s East Village, in West Los Angeles, and throughout Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. These shops became miniature meccas for various free-thinking stoners from other parts of the country.
Beyond being a place to buy grinders and one hit joints, many of these shops doubled as centers of political activism, mostly in opposition to the war in Vietnam and in support of the prevailing civil rights movement. In many cases these stores also became outlets for counterculture newspapers that weren’t welcome on traditional newsstands. It was an era that put a premium on free-thinking, and so weed became not just the drug of choice, but also a valuable piece of symbolism indicating a willingness to disrupt a system that their parents were less inclined to question.
Perhaps in part because of these activism leanings, shops fell under attack by the 1970s, when various “decency” laws were passed to outlaw anything to do with cannabis culture. Now local communities could determine what would be regarded as profane, and anything even tangentially related to drug culture was placed high on that list. These restrictions forced existing head shops to close their doors, which also eliminated the readership network for the counterculture newspapers and magazines that had few distribution options.
This restrictive opposition is only just beginning to erode with a generational shift of attitudes towards marijuana, alongside a continuing redefinition of what is considered obscene. This acceptance has lead ItsPrimo to become one of the fastest growing brick and mortar businesses, and a culture that is continuously evolving.