Up in Smoke

Valley glass blowers and head shops fear prosecution, as Operation Pipe Dream shuts down a local manufacturer

"We should not be criminally charged for other people's intent," he says.

But the federal government disagrees. In a press conference held the day of the arrests, Ashcroft stated, "Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge. This illegal billion-dollar industry will no longer be ignored by law enforcement."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws recently sent a letter to Ashcroft, suggesting that the federal government's effort to put pipe sellers out of business is off-target.

David Stone lost much of his glassware in a recent DEA raid.
Jackie Mercandetti
David Stone lost much of his glassware in a recent DEA raid.
Confiscated merchandise from Stone Artworx sits at a DEA warehouse.
Jackie Mercandetti
Confiscated merchandise from Stone Artworx sits at a DEA warehouse.

"It is time for the Justice Department to reassess its priorities and stop wasting federal law enforcement resources on such trivial endeavors," NORML wrote. "Federal efforts would undoubtedly be better served keeping a bomb out of the hands of Al Qaeda than keeping a bong out of the hands of a marijuana smoker."

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, says the group has received hundreds of e-mails from retailers, wholesalers and artisans "who all believe they have a constitutional right to blow these products and sell them."

In fact, he points out, they do not Ė and will not, unless laws are changed. Laws governing paraphernalia are based on intended use of products to perform a criminal act and encompass any item "primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance, possession of which is unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act.

Federal law specifically identifies items such as "metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls, roach clips, water pipes, chillums and bongs."

Despite what the product could be used for, it is the intended use that turns a flower vase into a bong, or a tobacco pipe into illegal paraphernalia.

"Intent laws," says St. Pierre, "Set a very scary precedent in a free market democracy."

Head shop owners throughout the Valley are worried that their shops will be the next targets of DEA raids. Few shop owners will talk about Operation Pipe Dream on the record.

Ted Kaercher, owner of Headquarters, a smoke shop in Tempe, says he's nervous the feds will come knocking on his door.

"I'm definitely worried and lowering our inventory, but it's almost a moot point. They busted all those companies I buy from; they could go through those records and use that to go after me."

He wonders why his sign saying "For Tobacco Use Only" isn't good enough anymore, and why no warnings were given that selling pipes was illegal. Kaercher sees it as part of a general trend of the federal government usurping the rights of individuals.

"They're making the hugest thing possible of this at a time when pipes should be the last thing on their minds."

Some glass blowers and others involved in the business have already launched letter-writing campaigns, but they doubt the campaigns will have any effect.

There is talk of an organized protest.

"Some people are saying, What if we take our pipes and go sit in front of head shops with a Sherlock and smoke tobacco?'" says the glass blower.

Tony Coulson, a public information officer for the DEA in Phoenix, is firm about the illegality of those who fabricate and market drug paraphernalia.

"If they are selling glassware that's for the purpose of illegal drug use, then they have a problem with federal law."

Yet, he adds almost wearily, "Is DEA Phoenix or the Arizona Field Division going to go after head shops?"

He pauses. "You know, we have a lot of work to do here. This is the southern border of the United States, and we're busy."

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