You squint through the peephole: your expected visitor appears trustworthy enough, with a tech-chic denim-and-boots look. It's not like he's up to anything too sketchy — just trying to match you with a weed vaporizer fit for your lifestyle — so you invite him in and offer a seat. He introduces himself as "Joe," reaches deep into a paper bag stamped with the green-and-brown logo of his company, Boston Vapes, and begins to produce a range of magical devices.
With a smorgasbord of vaporizers laid out across the coffee table, you offer to pack one with some extra-special ganja for the trial run. But Joe politely declines; he likes to burn as much as the next stoner — it's what got him in the paraphernalia business, duh — but he doesn't mix commerce and cannabis. The mission on his sales calls is to help you save your lungs while you get high, on your own time, for whatever need you may have — health, recreational, psycho-sexual.
"We do what I call a 'dry run,'" says Joe, 26, who asked that we not use his last name (he doesn't want his colleagues at his IT day job to find out about his side gig, even though it's legal). He says that vaporizers are gaining popularity as safer, smoke-free alternatives to traditional bowls, bongs, and especially hot-burning blunts and spliffs. For his demo, Joe turns the knob on a classic Silver Surfer model (retail price $270), which looks a little like the Leaning Tower of Pisa as rendered in sleek ceramic. Then , he shows where you'd load the bowl on a separate plastic tube, or "whip," explaining that when the Surfer's base heats up, you simply touch the bowl to it, then inhale from the other end of the whip.
A true believer, Joe preaches that vapes are personal items — like strap-on dildos, it's not one-size-fits-all. "You want to try it on first," he says. "If you're bedridden, then there are models that are good for that; if you want to smoke in the movie theater or a men's room, it's a whole other thing altogether. We have portable ones."
The idea for Boston Vapes came three years ago, while Joe was studying finance at Suffolk University. At the time, he "probably smoked too much weed," but the purchase of his first machine — a remote-controlled Arizer Extreme Q for $235 — at least removed some pressure from his lungs. "My roommate and I always talked about having a vaporizer," says Joe, "and when I finally got one, I fell in love with it and knew that others would feel the same way."
Joe and his partner — a young woman who handles orders and shipping, and whom he describes as "someone close" to him — made their first sale in 2010, after they had set up a basic Web site offering four different vaporizers. The customer, who they say was a doctor from Mass General Hospital in his late 30s, contacted them, and Joe arranged to meet him with an Extreme Q at a downtown Starbucks. It's that concierge approach, as well as his discretion and customer service, that Joe says makes his operation so special. He even carries replacement parts.