It's tiny, it's black, it's cigarette-shaped, it's discreet, and it has silver lettering on it. "It's the iPod of vaporizers," said a friend when I showed him a Juju Joint. It's "very Apple," another friend agreed. From across the room, it looks like a clove cigarette; when you get up close, you see that it's not a real cigarette at all but an e-cigarette, with a tip that lights up as you inhale.
Only it's not an e-cigarette, either, because there's no nicotine in it. It's an e-joint.
"I love the convenience of it," the drag queen Jinkx Monsoon said, taking a drag for the first time, pointing out it's perfect for singers since "you don't have to burn something and inhale the smoke."
Even though a Juju Joint is a vaporizer, it's not what you think of when you think of vaporizers. It's not a vaporizer you fill with marijuana shake and then hold down a button to heat up, and it's not one of those vape pen thingies you have to go out and buy cartridges of marijuana oil for. Those vaporizers have several parts and need to be charged. To use a Juju Joint, you don't have to charge anything. You don't have to fill it with anything. You don't have to screw anything into anything else. You just open the box (marked with whatever strain of marijuana oil is inside), pull out the plastic Juju Joint, and inhale.
You may not immediately feel anything—the website says to "enjoy three or four hits and give it five." Even when it does hit you, it's a softer high than you may be used to. After you've taken a few drags, you can slip the device into your pocket without worrying that you'll spill ashes or shake into your pants. It comes preloaded for 150 puffs, and you just toss it when it's empty. (That's the downside: They're landfill filler. The company says they're working on a program to recycle them.)
They went on the market in April, and so far, 25,000 Juju Joints have been sold in the medical marijuana market and another 10,000 in the recreational market. Ocean Greens, a recreational marijuana store on Aurora, sold 500 Juju Joints during the first two weeks of October, and it hadn't even had its grand opening yet. Ocean Greens owner Oltion Hyseni says there are a lot of reasons they're so popular. "A lot of people that are new to recreational marijuana or are coming back after years of nonsmoking, they prefer vapes over smoke because their habits are wiped out since they were teenagers or young adults." Juju Joints are good for people who don't want to get so baked they can't talk, don't want to set something on fire, and don't want to inhale carcinogens. "Health-wise, it doesn't have the agents that smoke has—that's the number-one benefit," Hyseni says. (For a scientific take on the difference between smoking and vaporizing, read this.)
"And it's handy," Hyseni adds. "It's such a versatile product, easy to carry around, easy to use."
Even though the oil in Juju Joints contains about 40 percent THC—twice the amount of THC as what you'd find in the plant material of a traditional joint—the first few times I tried one, I didn't think it was making me high. It smelled lovely and solved all the problems I associated with other vaporizers, but still, where was the high? Only 10 or 15 minutes later did I start to feel something, and when I did, it wasn't the same high I was used to. It didn't scramble my brain. I could read a book without getting lost in the shapes of the letters, like I do if I smoke a regular joint.
"It was fine, but I missed the sensation of smoking a joint," said one friend after trying it. "I felt sort of stoned but in a different way. It was less intense, but it was kind of weirder."
Another friend had the opposite experience, calling it "pretty strong for me—but I don't smoke all that often."
The guy who invented the device, Rick Stevens, lives in the suburbs of Seattle. Recently I drove out to his house to ask him about his (patent pending) invention. Stevens told me that when he first tried smoking weed, many years ago, "there were enough negatives I almost never tried it again." It made him anxious and paranoid, and he never really had any idea what he was smoking or where it came from. Having recently retired, he had some time on his hands, and after the legal landscape in Washington State changed, he thought it'd be fun to invent something. He wanted to make a product that was simple and user-friendly and intended for folks who weren't out to get as high as humanly possible. He thought to himself: "I don't want to make Everclear." The market was saturated with Everclear. He wanted to make something that someone could enjoy at a party and still participate in conversation—"a product that will enhance an evening, not a product that'll get you so stoned you're blotto and sitting in a corner," he said. "If you want to get out your bong and start ripping, that's a different event, and there's plenty of products out there for that."
Stevens knew something about how e-cigarettes work because he used to work in the tobacco business, doing brand work for cigarette companies. They'd tried to develop disposable e-cigarettes 20 years ago, but "no one would buy them." E-cigarettes work by heating up liquid nicotine until it boils, and then you inhale the steam. He knew it was theoretically possible to turn cannabis into a liquid, too, by extracting the oils from the plant, but he had no idea how to do it, and no one in the industry would tell him. He didn't even have a good source for weed. He laughed as he remembered driving to a parking lot in Olympia to meet a guy off Craigslist who sold him worthless weed. "The guy totally burned me," he said.
As you'll discover if you google "how to make cannabis oil," the first step is grinding up the weed and flushing it with a solvent: alcohol, naphtha, hexane, butane, propane—just about any solvent will do. "People left and right are blowing up their houses doing this," Stevens said, holding up a bottle of cannabis oil someone had made with butane as the solvent. "It's dangerous." The other thing about using petrochemicals is that they end up in the final product, so Juju Joints don't use petrochemicals in the first place. After simple trial and error, Stevens devised a system that uses liquid CO2, which is safe to ingest and also acts as a sterilizer—taking care of any bugs, mold, or mildew that might be in the weed. But that doesn't take care of the waxes in the plant, which will eventually harden the oil into the consistency of a crayon if you don't remove them. To strain the waxes out, Stevens tried all kinds of things, including the coffee filters and strainers in his kitchen.
Eventually, his wife banished him from the kitchen to the laundry room. During 18 months of trial and error, he bought dozens of e-cigarettes off the e-commerce website Alibaba—there are at least 70 different manufacturers of e-cigarette devices in China—and took them apart and filled them with his cannabis oil, trying to get something to work. But his cannabis oil was still too thick to work inside products designed for liquid nicotine. Eventually, through Stevens's old contacts in the e-cigarette business, he located a Chinese manufacturer willing to produce what would end up being the shell of Juju Joints, as narrow as a real cigarette, wrapped around the narrow cartridges of cannabis oil along with a lithium battery and a smart chip.
Eventually, Stevens and his business partner, Marcus Charles, moved their entire operation to a former sawmill on the coast in Raymond, Washington. That's where the weed in a Juju Joint comes from (if you get your Juju Joint at a medical marijuana dispensary), and the extraction happens there, too; it takes "three grams of high-quality cannabis to make each 150 hit e-joint." Each e-joint contains two-tenths of a gram of cannabis oil and one-tenth of a gram of propylene glycol, an ingredient that's used to keep the cannabis oil from hardening. (Juju Joints is working on a next-generation model that doesn't need any propylene glycol, too.)
The Juju Joints company is a medical marijuana cooperative, and you can buy the e-joints at a dispensary for $25. But Juju Joint shells are also sold to recreational vendors, who by law have to fill them with marijuana oil themselves, although Juju Joints provides them with instructions on how to do that. If you get your Juju Joint at a recreational store, they're far more expensive, because there's a 25 percent tax at every stage of recreational retailing. At Ocean Greens, Juju Joints retail for $65. "We are the cheapest Juju Joint vendors in the [recreational] market," Ocean Greens owner Hyseni told me. "The reason we have it cheap is because we're in the middle of the dispensaries on Aurora, and we want not just recreational people but the people who like to use the dispensaries."
Stevens says he's heard of recreational stores charging as much as $140 for a Juju Joint, which he says is outrageous. But he predicts the prices at recreational stores will come down with time.
For now, he's excited that his product—the first of its kind, apparently—seems to be catching on. He says there's a product in the Netherlands being marketed as "the first e-joint," but if you look at the ingredients, it says it contains "no THC." It also contains "no nicotine." It only contains glycol and flavoring. "They're just, like, lying," Stevens said. If all goes according to plan, Juju Joints will start selling the shells to vendors in Colorado, for them to fill and sell out there.
Medical marijuana patients have told Stevens they like Juju Joints because they can maintain the THC in their system without getting too cloudy in the head. (Soon, Juju Joints will be available in higher concentrations of CBD, the medicinal compound in weed.) And recreational users liken Juju Joints to having beer or wine instead of shots of liquor.
"When I worked on tobacco, everybody hated me," Stevens said. "Now I'm Mr. Magic."