The first rule of G-Pen pipes is don't stash them in your shoe. I learned this the hard way at this year's Coachella, when my foot accidentally pressed the "on" button to the tune of second-degree burns. Otherwise, the herbal and oil vaporizers manufactured by L.A.-based Grenco Science may be the greatest advancement in getting high since the discovery of cannabis chocolate ice cream.
The classic G-Pen is a sleek black-and-silver wand, as stealth and futuristic as the memory erasers from Men in Black. It's as minimalist as marijuana can get. Multiple hours of flight can be fueled by an eraser head–size dab of wax, a weed concentrate with higher THC levels.
There's little smoke, lung impact is light, and there's scarcely any lingering aroma. It's effective at parties, and ideal for concerts, weddings or graduation ceremonies — anywhere where subterfuge is key. Since its inception two years ago, the company has sold and given away countless pens, which retail for $70 to $100. Among narcotically inclined rap stars coast to coast, they've become a go-to accessory.
Think of it as the meeting point between Steve Jobs and Snoop Dogg. In fact, the latter is the latest partner in the 2-year-old company. Snoop's "Double G" series is laminated with a printed street map of his adolescent Long Beach stomping grounds.
"What's fly about the vaporizer movement is that it's clean and convenient," Snoop Dogg tells the Weekly via email.
The most iconic musical stoner since Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg had been pitched every half-baked idea imaginable, and he'd bit on a few — including a $99.99 digital "Golden Jay" that you could buy on his Snoopify App.
But by the time the G-Pen executives met with Snoop's representatives, they spied their product already lingering on his desk.
Since teaming with Grenco several months ago, Snoop's Instagram has lit up with G-Pen placement. The same goes for Wiz Khalifa, who isn't even an official partner — just a fan and friend of the product and the people behind it.
Other collaborators include rappers The Game and Action Bronson, the streetwear brand Huf and New York graffiti writer Claw Money. The latter designed a pen and packaging specifically tailored to women, with a candy-colored pen that lights up in pink. A portion of the proceeds from its sale goes to breast cancer charities.
"This product is a skeleton key that fits into any door. It's allowed us to meet and create with people that we never thought we would," says Tim Patenaude, Grenco vice president and right-hand man of co-founder Chris Folkerts. "It has novelty and functionality."
The lanky, bespectacled Patenaude speaks from Grenco's offices in the Art Deco Building on Wilshire, a converted bank in the appropriately named zigzag moderne style. Neither he nor Folkerts will divulge exactly how many pens have been made in Grenco's Chinese factory, and they won't divulge their market share, but Patenaude says he expects the vaporizer market to be a "multibillion-dollar industry" before long.
"For the average person, vaporizers seem like the increasingly preferred way to smoke," High Times senior editor Bobby Black says. "It's definitely a multimillion-dollar industry already, and the number of manufacturers is constantly growing. Grenco's G-Pen is one of the most well known, best-selling and better made ones.
"They're certainly the most effective at marketing," Black adds. "The music focus has definitely helped them. They've been going to music festivals and concerts, getting backstage, giving pens away to big-name artists and getting free promotion from the artists using their products."
G-Grenco certainly has cornered the market for devotees of herbal remedies and rap music, with its products in more than 6,000 stores domestically, from head shops to clothing boutiques.
It's no coincidence that Patenaude and Folkerts come from music marketing backgrounds. The latter worked for several years in concert promotions in St. Louis before heading west to work for metal label Sumerian Records.
"I ran into the technology when it was in its infancy. The moment I hit it, I knew it was the future," Folkerts, 31, says by phone from Manhattan; he moved there earlier this year to be closer to the company's second biggest market (L.A. remains first).
Sold on the technology's potential, Folkerts joined forces with Anthony Barron, who brought a manufacturing background. Funded without outside investors, the two principals endured the usual trial-and-error phases.
But the benefits of the pen's inconspicuousness — in contrast to clunky pipes — was obvious. "There was that moment when we got the first prototype and busted it out in a Pitfire Pizza," Folkerts remembers. "I took a giant rip and it was, like, 'Holy shit, this is what we've been waiting for.' "
Before the G-Pen became ubiquitous, vaporization was a complicated and elaborate ritual. I first sampled one a decade ago, when a college associate discovered that if you combined a Wagner model "Turbo Cool" paint stripper gun with a bong, you could vape.
Another primitive method of heating the weed to remove THC but leave behind cinders involved a Turbo Cool, glassware and Thanksgiving turkey bags. There were wooden boxes with plastic suction tubes and a $500 metal contraption called the Volcano. By contrast, the G-Pen is a MacBook Air to a room-sized '70s IBM processor.
Grenco Science officially launched at the 2012 Cypress Hill Smoke Out in San Bernardino, an event akin to Weedstock. It wasn't the first pen on the market, but it rapidly became the most popular after Folkerts linked up with Action Bronson. The vaporizer pen was an ideal match for the perma-blazed Queens epicurean, who has since become an ambassador for Grenco, constantly toting the pen and even shouting it out on raps.
"I only smoke wax now. It's more pure and it's got a beautiful taste ... a cleaner high. You don't stink like weed afterward and you get higher for longer," Bronson says.
While medical studies remain inconclusive, most doctors view the vaporization of THC as a safer alternative to smoking it. A 2007 study from the University of California, San Francisco, found "a smokeless cannabis-vaporizing device delivers the same level of active therapeutic chemicals and produces the same biological effects as smoking cannabis but without the harmful toxins."
For the casual smoker, there is something far less intimidating about hitting a G-Pen. The design is elegant and metallic, as though you're pulling on a cigarette holder from the year 3030.
"You can walk into a bar in the nicest part of town and, if you smell like weed, there's a certain stigma attached," Folkerts says. "If you pull out a G-Pen at the same bar, doctors and lawyers who don't smoke weed want to try it. It's unobtrusive and puts people's defenses down."
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For now, Grenco is silent on the issue of legalization. The official company policy is that the devices are intended for smoking oils and herbs such as peppermint and eucalyptus. But its plans going forward extend far beyond new lines of the pens themselves. There will be butaneless rechargeable lighters, e-hookahs and e-cigs.
The most prominent plan involves the continued expansion of G-Life, Grenco's lifestyle brand, slated to include extensive YouTube programming and partnerships with some top skateboarders.
Within the music world, there's a large window for Grenco to become a heavy hitter in a way that it could never be from merely selling records.
"We've got some exciting stuff coming up involving really big artists that has nothing to do with G-Pen — just strictly producing and releasing music," Folkerts says. "That's the focus of it all. G-Pen provides us with a blank canvas; it opens the door for us to go wherever we want to go."