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A pipe dream no more

Brian Miller, a USF student who studies business marketing, is a part-time glassblower who creates intricately designed pieces known as heady glass. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The legalization of marijuana is one of the most contentious debates in the U.S. 

But no matter how much politicians argue, marijuana has made a noteworthy impact on the millennial culture. A decade ago, marijuana culture was something hidden in the outskirts from the mainstream. It was legally and morally stigmatized and mostly understood through the lens of stoner stereotypes.   

These days, the idea of a businessman smoking a joint after a day at the office isn’t as strikingly oxymoronic. The acceptance that there is a diversity of marijuana users is making its way to Tampa. 

Marijuana is credited at the forefront of many major subcultures, including those of the hippie movement and the beat generation. The U.S. is now witnessing another subculture: the heady culture.

Heady culture is slang for the movement of functioning glass art. Functioning glass art is anything from artistically designed pipes to wearable glass pendants. The subculture has even made its way to USF. 

Not only is Brian Miller studying business marketing at USF, but he also happens to be a functioning glass artist. 

“I’ve always been interested in art. My mom collects art, so I was just into it,” Miller said. “I never thought my passion would turn into my career.”

Miller landed a job at a local smoke shop in 2013. While working one day, local glass artist Mike Clark came in with a case of glass art that Miller describes as being “one of the most beautiful things.” 

Eventually, Miller developed a mentor/student relationship with Clark and has since been apprenticing under him weekly. It’s been a year and a half since that meeting and Miller has already developed a brand for his art: Miller Glass Life.

According to Miller, if it weren’t for pot culture he would never have found his urge to make glass art. 

“Thanks to the influence marijuana has, I found my passion,” Miller said. “When I make my glass art, it’s my getaway. I get lost in the flame and it’s my way of expressing myself.”

But Miller doesn’t want people to look at his art and think it’s just a utensil to get high.

“I want to help open up people’s eyes to this form of art,” Miller said. “I don’t want people to think I’m making functioning glass art just for people to take and smoke weed out of it.  It is an art, and I want people to see the innocence in my work. I want people to know that it was made with my heart.”

Glassblowing is a meticulous process. Artisans spend time over a flame perfecting their craft by using different techniques and tools of the trade. 

An artist will hold out an iron rod, spinning it between torch and glass to conform the molten glass to the perfect groove. They might even hold their bare hands inches away from blue flame to twist the smallest intricacies. Often racing against time, glassblowers warp beakers into ethereal shapes with only minutes before the cooling glass hardens. 

In Germany, some glassblower standards are so high that every handmade pipe must be measured to an exact specification for every angle, curve and edge — or else it is discarded. 

But for many glassblowers, perfect measurements aren’t enough for a piece to be considered art. They’ll add designs that range from animal shapes to skulls to steampunk gears. 

Other than fantastical forms, what attracts many are the psychedelic color schemes that spiral and bend together. This sort of colored glass is known as heady glass, which lends its name to the heady subculture.

To make heady glass requires even more work and time. Like a paintbrush that melts into paint, artisans will touch colored coils against the glass body, and melt it with a torch to fuse patterns onto the piece. 

The best artists are household names in the heady community and their pieces are often sold at a higher price for the prestige attached to their signature that is often etched on. Collectors sometimes won’t even use their most beautifully elaborate pieces, except perhaps for special occasions.

Miller believes that reform in marijuana legalization will help more people see glasswork as art, as well as dispel the stigma associated with paraphernalia as being “insidious” and “used for bad purposes.”

“I want to help with the marijuana movement,” Miller said. “This is going to be my life, and I don’t want people to think my art is in any way negative and harmful.” 

While marijuana has had a great impact on an entire generation by changing the way society views its community, the marijuana movement is not ending anytime soon.

Pushing that reform is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the oldest and largest marijuana advocacy group in the U.S. 

Saturday, the organization will host the Spring Leaf Freedom Festival, or SPLiFF, in Ybor City’s daily market to raise awareness for marijuana legalization.

USF alumnus Christopher Cano serves as the executive director for Central Florida’s NORML chapter and said he is excited to bring the event to Tampa. 

“We want to bring together businesses in the community, activists and patients to an all-day music festival,” he said. “We’re building this event to bring awareness to marijuana legalization, and we’re trying to change the bad stigma on pot culture.”

Cano said pot culture has always been negatively stereotyped and believes if it continues to carry a bad stigma, it will be harder for marijuana to become legal. 

“Pot smokers are now lawyers, doctors and other professionals. They aren’t lazy hippies that sit around all day and don’t give back to the community,” he said. “People think marijuana users are non-motivated and that we don’t care about anything, but the fact of it is we do want to give back to the community and we also want to help the community.”

One of the main arguments against marijuana is social acceptance would lead to increased use, especially among adolescents. Numerous experiments have indicated marijuana use may inhibit and permanently damage cognitive function, such as memory, judgment and advanced reasoning. 

Though its researchers cautioned it is difficult to pinpoint causation, one study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently caused a media firestorm. The study found the average marijuana user had lower a IQ and less dense grey matter in the brain. Grey matter contains most of the brain’s cells and affects memory, emotions, speech, decision-making and self-control. 

On the other hand, there have also been scientific studies suggesting marijuana can shrink brain tumors, prevent epilepsy and cause no long-term cognitive injury — or could even improve mental function.

Even if marijuana use does have consequences, advocates often counterpoint that alcohol consumption has resulted in more physically and mentally dangerous consequences than marijuana.

Opponents nonetheless stand by their view that marijuana culture would not mesh with traditional moral values. When Florida was about to consider medical marijuana for last year’s ballot, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush voiced a similar opinion in a statement.

“Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” Bush said. “Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts.”

Whether it is recreationally or medically legal, however, Americans are still smoking it.

Statewide, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated roughly 11 percent of surveyed Floridians admitted to using marijuana. In November’s election, 57 percent of voters voted yes for medical marijuana — just four points shy of the percent needed to pass the law.

Nationwide, a study by Pew Research found that about 19 million Americans smoked marijuana in the month prior to the study, and 52 percent of Americans want it to be legal. So far in the U.S., 23 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for some sort of use. 

“If most Americans are smoking marijuana, why not come out of the cannabis closet,” Cano said. “We need as much exposure as possible.”