opening a head shop

How to Open a Headshop

How to Open a Smoke Shop

If you live in one of the states where marijuana has been legalized, you probably already realize the demand for headshops. Even medical marijuana patients need paraphernalia, and stock can be limited at dispensaries. But since marijuana laws vary from one state to the next, opening a headshop involves hours of work on the front end to make sure you’re within all local regulations.

Head Shop Inventory

What exactly is a head shop? In the minds of many people, it’s a store that carries paraphernalia related to smoking marijuana. This is true to a degree, although most head shops carry t-shirts, incense and other related products attractive to the weed-smoking community. Most head shops include a wide range of items for sale, including:

  • Magazines
  • Posters
  • Pipes and pipe screens
  • Hollow books and other diversion safes
  • Bongs
  • Roach clips and rolling papers
  • Herb grinders and baggies
  • Lighters

While it’s illegal to have a pipe along with marijuana in a non-legal state, head shops can legally sell these items to adults over 18. The way to keep pipes and other smoking paraphernalia legal is to sell them as tobacco smoking aids. Just as wine glasses and beer mugs don’t have to be used with alcohol, these items don’t have to aid in smoking weed. It’s the actual use with marijuana that makes each of these items an illegal piece of property.

Research and Prepare

Before you take next steps, make sure you are fully aware of the ins and outs of operating a headshop in your state. Unlike an ice cream shop or boutique, headshops still undergo intense scrutiny. One of the best investments you can make early on is an attorney who can help you navigate the local laws. If you ever find your shop on shaky legal ground, you’ll also have legal help just one quick phone call away. Whether a state has legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, headshops are limited to selling only paraphernalia. Cannabis sales are relegated to highly-regulated dispensaries.

Recreational States

If you live in a state where marijuana is legal for recreational use, one of your biggest problems will be competition. Dispensaries and smoke shops cover the state, so it’s important to sell unique products that set your store apart from the rest. As of 2018, there are more than 500 stores registered with the State of Colorado, and that number is likely to continue to grow. If you live in a trailblazer state like Colorado, though, you won’t be fighting to navigate uncharted territory, as headshops in recently-legalized states must do. Shops have been operating in the state since 2014, which means a path to opening and operating that type of store has already been forged. You’ll need to get a retail license from the state and the city, which requires applying, attending a hearing and regularly undergoing inspections. Most importantly, in any recreational state, you’ll need to study and follow changes to all laws specific to operating a marijuana-related retail establishment.

Medical States

Medical marijuana has been legalized in far more states, with the number growing each year. However, if you want to open a headshop in one of these states, it’s important to pay close attention to local “bong laws.” In Florida, for instance, a 2013 law banned the selling of drug paraphernalia. However, the 2016 passage of medical marijuana in the state has called that ban into question, although headshops still may find that they face tighter scrutiny than other types of retailers. In any medical marijuana state, you’ll continue to play the “for tobacco use only” game when displaying and discussing your products, rather than being honest about the real reason the customers in your store are looking at bongs and pipes.

As marijuana is gradually legalized throughout the country, headshops are more in demand than ever. But these shops still come under close scrutiny, so it’s important to know the regulations for your area, as well as having legal counsel on hand both before and during your shop’s operation.

How to Open a Head Shop


Head shops, stores that sell items like rolling papers and pipes as well as tapestries, incense, magazines and other items of interest to members of the cannabis community and other subcultures, are nothing new. But they are changing. A head shop is no longer a seedy joint with a poor reputation for selling drug paraphernalia and slinging weed out the back door. With the changing marijuana laws in North America, the cannabis industry is expected to reach over $20 billion by 2021, so there has never been a better time to join the industry.

Investigate the Laws

Selling marijuana for recreational use is still illegal on the federal level. Each state has its own laws and regulations for marijuana, and these laws are continually evolving. Research this thoroughly in your state to get an idea not only of what the laws are now, but any changes expected to be coming down the pike. As of early 2019, 10 states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, and all but three states have a medical marijuana program in some form.

For instance, in Colorado weed is essentially treated as alcohol historically has been – you must be over 21 to purchase and partake. Louisiana has legal medical marijuana, but it isn’t legal recreationally and still other states like Iowa and Alabama maintain very harsh laws. Not only do you need to have an eye on marijuana possession laws, but those for head shops and dispensaries who serve consumers. Even possessing and selling items used to consume cannabis, known collectively as “paraphernalia,” can lead to criminal charges and penalties.

There are plenty of online resources that are able to acquaint you with the most up-to-date information about the legality of marijuana in your state or you can always consult a lawyer. Of course, you need to contact the local and state government to make sure you adhere to all regulations just like any other business would.

Choose Your Spot Wisely

Head shops should be located on a main thoroughfare in the community you wish to serve. A small spot of several hundred square feet will do nicely to start. Make sure your location is commercially zoned and is centrally located close to colleges or other areas that feed pedestrian traffic. Be far enough away from any other head shop to prevent too much direct competition – ideally, nothing within a 20-minute walk from your place.

Stock Up on Inventory

You will need several thousand dollars to set up your head shop with inventory. Offer a wide array of smoking devices, hemp products, books and other media related to marijuana. It’s also a good idea to have a cozy place for people to relax, because head shops traditionally foster a communicative atmosphere, and you want people to be comfortable. Keep track of your inventory, compared to your overhead so that you make sure you are inching toward potential profitability.

Let the Community Know About You

Starting a month or so before your doors open, start advertising. Have your signage in front of your head shop to get word of mouth working for you. Create social media profiles under your business name. Start engaging with your target market online and in real life to foster excitement.

How you market your business to the community will determine the type of clientele you attract. You might not be after the demographic traditionally associated with head shops, especially in today’s changing cannabis culture. Instead, you might be most interested in adults trying cannabis for the first time or in selective consumers who seek out luxury products. Plan your marketing strategy around which customers you want to pursue and what will be most attractive to them.

If you balance your business choices correctly, you will soon go from the red to the black, courtesy of the green. As fun as a head shop seems to own, never lose sight that it is a business and one that has fantastic fiscal potential.

How to Open a Head Shop. A head shop is a store that sells paraphernalia related to smoking marijuana and marijuana culture. Depending on where you open, you might be required to ostensibly be a tobacco store. While this is certainly a controversial business model, it can also be a lucrative one, particularly as … ]]>