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Puff, Puff Pass, And the Art of Social Smoking

Puff, puff, pass is a part of general smoking etiquette
Written by Sarah Friedman

Puff, puff, pass is a near universal unspoken law in the world of cannabis social smoking.

Some of us smoke socially, some of us prefer to toke up in the privacy of our own space. Either way, there’s etiquette involved. When it comes to social smoking, there is the widely-known standard of puff, puff, pass. This exists with other conventions of social smoking; and is a consistent part of smoking culture, today.

Puff, puff, pass meaning

Vapes and edibles are catching on in a big way in the last few years, but there’s something about the good old joint; which maintains through generational, and industrial change. It’s nice to stand with a group of friends, or fellow-smokers, and share a story or a laugh, while passing a joint around. Is there really any specific rule for doing this? Of course, not!

However, despite a lack of formal literature on joint smoking etiquette; the convention of puff, puff pass, has embedded itself into social smoking society. And in the end, its really mainly a matter of having respect. Sure, everyone wants to make sure they get their own buzz-on, but its important to think about the group.

The term ‘puff, puff, pass’ is nothing more than a format. Each member of the smoking circle gets to hit the joint two times, before passing. The pass is generally to the left, but this is less important than making sure everyone gets a fair shot at the joint. There is nothing about how long a toke can be, so a person is free to hit the joint as hard as they want, when its their turn.

Puff, puff, pass is an unspoken rule of social smoking
Puff, puff, pass is an unspoken rule of social smoking

This tradition continues on as a word of mouth ritual. With no rules to govern it, or official cap on the number of tokes allowed in a turn; it shows one interesting thing. That people search for some kind of order and fairness, even when no one is making them. Somehow we always gravitate back to this model, in most any social smoking scenario.

There’s no rule saying that in a social environment, a person must share their weed. But I’ve found through life that if you show up to a party with weed, and choose to smoke it in a corner without sharing; you might get the evil eye from those around. It is understandable that many won’t want to share their well-earned stash; but its also good to remember, that sharing yours now, means getting included in someone else’s share, later.

Puff, puff, pass history

According to Emily Earlenbaugh of Cannabisnow, the phrase puff, puff, pass proceeded another popular word from 1960’s and 70’s US smoking culture. Back then, if you hogged the joint at your term, someone was sure to shout out ‘don’t ‘bogart’ the joint!’ The word ‘bogart’ is a slang term used beyond the world of weed, to indicate a person is keeping something for themselves, and not sharing with others.

That term actually does come from famous actor Humphrey Bogart, who was known to have a cigarette stuck into the side of his mouth, but with no apparent drawing on it. He wasn’t actually keeping anything from anyone; but the idea of holding onto something endlessly, stuck in its application with social smoking. It’s also applied to shared cigarettes. While this term was much more popular many decades ago, its still heard often enough today, if something holds onto the joint too long.

Earlenbaugh, however, gave no further uncovered information about where the term actually originated. Unlike a lot of modern terminology that is easily traced back to the statement of a person, or an event; this is a little bit harder. Apparently, where puff, puff, pass originated is not as well-known as the phrase itself. In fact, I can’t find a single entry online that is able to explain how this term came to be.

What we do know, is that it doesn’t seem to show up in the language as a coined term, until after the hippy era. Some even grew up with the simpler ‘puff, pass,’ which only allows for one toke per turn. I could not dig up anything more on it either, which means the ability to know the origin of this phrase; may be gone with the wind.

Puff, puff, pass means passing the joint after two hits
Puff, puff, pass means passing the joint after two hits

Critics of puff, puff, pass

Critics abound everywhere, even when the arguments make very little sense. If nothing else, as I mentioned, puff, puff, pass shows an interesting desire to move away from chaos and toward order. Something that people nearly universally choose to do when it comes to smoking weed socially; even though no laws prevail. Even the biggest outlaw sorts, will still hold true to smoking etiquette, because its such a standard thing to do.

What are people unhappy with? In her article on the phrase, Earlenbaugh brings up a couple things, that get repeated in other places, as well. You can decide for yourself whether you want to care about these things, or not.

The first is about disease. Despite the fact we’re a species that procreates by sexual encounters that explicitly don’t involve condoms; and despite the fact we’re social animals that crave touch, and come from societies with such thoughts baked into the very crust of existence (think of the double cheek kiss); people still get weird about passing a joint. We can literally watch other animal species sticking their wet noses into each other’s wet noses, or genital areas; yet this logic of basic humanity and animalism, is often lost to modern culture.

Yes, things can pass from one person to another. This can also happen at a family meal, on the subway, having any conversation with a person face to face, in a restaurant, at work, school, church, the supermarket, during sex, and anywhere else. I mean, its so easy, that’s how the fear of corona took off so badly. But that’s also a part of what we are, beings that build our immune systems through exposure. If this frightens you, or you think you see a cold sore on the lip of a person in the circle, opt out. Or don’t get closer with shotgun antics. It’s your choice in the end.

The other complaint centered on the idea of sharing. The writer, as a medical patient, didn’t necessarily like the idea of having to share one’s weed. But I think that gets a bit nit picky. If its medicine, its medicine. But if you’re going to go to a social place and smoke the stuff in front of other people without trying to be inconspicuous about it, and take the attitude of turning anyone around down…well, I mean, you might not be the most popular person at the party. Even so, its an option; as is explaining to those around that you’re sick, and this isn’t about getting stoned.

She argues that medical patients might require large amounts, and therefore the cost of sharing can pose difficulty. To be honest, I expect the majority who are sick enough to need that much weed, aren’t likely to be in the middle of tons of social situations with people they don’t know. When with regular friends, the situation is probably known; and without the pressure of being around new people who want to get in on it. If this is actually an issue for anyone, perhaps its best to find those with similar situations, to share between.

Its good to share a little in a social situation
Its good to share a little in a social situation

And if you don’t want to share all your weed…

Sometimes you show up to a social situation and everyone has something to offer. Sometimes you show up, and its just you holding green. While I fully promote the idea of puff, puff, pass, and sharing in general in social situations; I also know the weight of it falling on one person; and the disappointment of realizing after one night out, that your stash is almost gone.

One way to handle it is to keep your weed private, and smoke it privately only. Take a walk away from the crowd, offer to pick up snacks so you can get away for a bit, or take it in a way that other people are unaware, like an edible. If you want to get high without sharing, that’s cool. Just maybe be cognizant of it if a lot of people are around, and you know they want a hit.

Another option, best for when you know you’ll be around a lot of people; is to roll one or two for social use, and then use the rest privately. No one said you have to share everything you have. I’ve even rolled joints out of cheaper weed, and kept the better stuff for myself. The benefit of this is that you’re not seen as a non-sharer, but you don’t have to give it all away either.


I have smoked many people out in life, and been lucky enough to get a few hits, even when I had nothing to offer. The weed world of social smoking can be a beautiful example of sharing and caring; characterized by the practice of puff, puff, pass.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.