Shahin Amirpour may
have been the most popular guy in Newport Beach.
The year was 2001
and Amirpour, then a beach-town surfer who organized corporate parties for a
living, had stumbled across a relatively new way to enjoy cannabis: Vaporizing.
By heating ground-up
buds to a temperature below combustion, a person could enjoy consuming cannabis
without having to breathe all the nastiness of cannabis smoke. Sure, some
people say, “You have to cough to get off,” but his friends, especially the
athletes among them, loved it. Many wanted Amirpour to get them one.
But vaporizing was
in its infancy. Some of the devices on the market were expensive, poorly
designed or couldn’t deliver a strong enough hit. And that’s if you could find
one at all, during a time when cannabis was very much illegal everywhere.
So Amirpour, with
the help of a couple engineer friends, created his own vaporizer, the Hot Box.
“Everyone thought I
was crazy. There was no investor. I spent my life savings, $250,000, and put it
all into a vaporizer company,” said Amirpour. “Everyone had such bad
experiences with vaporizers that it was an evolving market.”
Or maybe he was
crazy like a fox, because vaporizers have become wildly popular, and Amirpour
has channeled the success of the Hot Box into a major cannabis-accessory
venture, 1 Source Products, which also makes odor-proof packaging and distributes
a wide range of vaporizer products.
The basic Hot Box,
which starts at around $100, is just that: A box. Take a couple minutes to
assemble the wand and tubing, plug the box into the wall, grind your herb, hold
the wand against the heating element in the box and inhale. After a few seconds,
exhale white vapor that has none of the throat-burn of smoke.
No balloon. No
temperature setting. No dials, knobs, bells or whistles.
effective, reliable, healthy. It’s really easy for older people. You don’t need
to dial a switch or set it to a temperature,” Amirpour said. “We built
something that works right. It doesn’t need to be fancy.”
And don’t forget to
save the brown leftovers. There’s still THC in there that can be used for
The basic model is
ceramic today instead of the original stone, and you can pay more for designs
featuring art or celebrities like Cheech and Chong or for you own custom
design. But otherwise the Hot Box is essentially the same as it was when Amirpour
began distributing in 2002.
might be the wrong word. He gave them away.
Such was the
reputation of vaporizers, Amirpour had trouble getting them into stores. So he
gave away the first 200, many to athletes and health-conscious cannabis users
he knew from the neighborhood or putting on corporate parties, counting on word
of mouth to boost sales.
It didn’t help
when, in 2003, the feds began raiding cannabis paraphernalia companies. Even
Tommy Chong went to federal prison for selling glass pieces. Much of the
industry went underground.
patented the Hot Box as aroma therapy and avoided legal trouble, but sales
remained sluggish until around 2007. By then, medical cannabis dispensaries were
on the rise in several states, and the quality of vaporizers on the market,
such as the classic Volcano, was changing minds about smoking versus vaping.
By remaining simple
and affordable—starting at $100 for the Hot Box versus $300 or more for other
desktop vapes—Amirpour carved a niche in the now-booming market. Sales peaked
at $1 million in 2011.
“When I started
there were four other companies. Now there are 400 other companies,” said
While perhaps an
exaggeration, there’s no doubt the popularity of vaping has hurt Hot Box sales,
which began dropping in 2012 as portable vape pens and other cordless devices
began to flood the market. Stores began devoting less space to desktop brands. So
in the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” spirit, 1 Source Products began
distributing numerous such devices made by other companies.
tough. The distribution side of our business is what makes money,” Amirpour
said. 1 Source Products has also unveiled the Smelly Proof Bags, which is just
that: A line of plastic bags designed to seal and mask odors. Along with
discrete cannabis-using travelers, Amirpour plans to market them to dispensaries
as approved child-proof containers and even to campers looking to mask their
food from wildlife.
Still, the Hot Box
remains his flagship product. His company is working on an attachment to allow
people to use cannabis oil instead of flower. And instead of trying to compete
with more mass-produced vaporizers, he plans keep selling the Hot Box as a
“boutique” vaporizer. He emphasizes the five-year warranty on every device,
good customer service and the fact that while many vaporizers are made overseas,
the Hot Box continues to be made in California.
“The one in my
office has been on continuously since December 3, 2004. All the time. No other
vaporizer can claim you can leave it on for 10 years,” said Amirpour.
“It’s a quality
vaporizer and you get a strong hit.”