How 3-D Printers Can End the War on Drugs

Ever seen a 3-D printer? Ever seen a 3-D printer on weed?

Few things demonstrate stoner ingenuity better than the homemade bong. It’s an open-ended problem, requiring only the bare minimum of materials. So long as it holds water and you can put weed somewhere, it’ll work, be it a water bottle or watermelon. Older readers will remember the ol’ crushed-and-perforated-can trick, no doubt a savior at many a Bad Company concert. Now, though, THC-fueled creativity is entering the 21st century with a bit of help from the most promising technology to develop since the Internet: 3-D printing.

They’ve been around for about 30 years now, only recently making their way to the public eye, but in that time, 3-D printers have created everything from titanium medical replacements to math-based fractal art. Essentially, a 3-D printer works a bit like the common laser printer, but it exchanges ink and paper for binding materials and powdered building plastics (or metal, depending on the printer). Then, instead of printing on flat paper, a 3-D printer creates an object layer by layer in space. The result is a tangible, movable, functional object.

So, naturally, it was only a matter of time before we made bongs with them.

According to Motherboard, the first 3-D printed tube showed up on Thingiverse around three years ago, but that’s about the equivalent of the crushed can compared to what we have now. A Thingiverse search reveals more than two dozen results, ranging from a Super Mario-themed bong to the more sensible “13 inch percolated water pipe” by some dude named Trev. Most of them require a separate glass bowl and stem (or, they should) apart from the burnable plastic tube, but, hey, this tech is really still only in its infancy. Once somebody figures out how to print with glass frit, then it’s really on.

While we’re not at Star Trek-replicator levels of creation, 3-D printers do represent a level of technology that could potentially serve to further invalidate the increasingly irrelevant drug war, given enough time to develop.

We’ve already got chemical-based printers that can print drugs, so that, coupled with a homemade bong, could widen the gap between making laws and enforcing them even further in the context of prohibition. But even in the short term, the Silk Road currently does millions of dollars in business, and it seems like more and more drug users are endorsing it daily. So the potential to never have to leave your home to get high, should you own a 3-D printer, is already here.

But, like Bill Hicks said, the people on drugs have been winning the war on drugs for years. Besides the thriving Silk Road, we’ve got two states with legal marijuana, another 18 with medical marijuana, and the last three presidents have all been potheads at one time or another in their lives. More so than a tangible, direct blow at the drug war, though, the advent of 3-D printed bongs is more symbolic in that it reveals that wily stoner ingenuity to be somewhere closer to tenacity. Technology, after all, will always have a more lasting impact than any politician or law can. As the physical manifestation of man’s will, it ought to—3-D printed bongs just tell us that that will in 2013 is, on some level, to sit down and smoke some pot.

These new 3-D printed bongs are far from virally popular, though, with the most downloaded plan netting around 800 transfers total. But, then, desktop 3-D printing is still in early development, and most potheads currently are spending their money on, well, more pot over a cool new printer. But as the technology becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous (which it will), we’re going to see the marijuana culture hit the scene in full force; I’m talking 3-D printed weed grinders, vaporizers, stash boxes, lighters—you name it, if you can put weed in or light a joint with it, stoners are going to produce more iterations than ever thought possible.

Which then begs the question of what level of responsibility sites like Thingiverse will bear in terms of what plans they should allow on their site to comply with the law of the land. But hopefully by the time your average American can use a 3-D printer at home, we’ll be going after the people making weapons instead of bongs.