By: Erin Keene
Ok, we all know it’s illegal to smoke pot. So why are bongs or glass pipes available for purchase from stores on South Beach? For decades, bong manufactures, glass blowers and head shop business owners have been able to “legally” sell drug paraphernalia because they claim their merchandise is intended for smoking tobacco or burning incense. Sure, that’s the reason why pot posters hang in the store window next to t-shirts advertising the legalization of marijuana. Like an anonymous web surfer pointed out on our message board: “Who would take a bong hit of cigarette smoke? Gross!”
It turns out selling drug paraphernalia is illegal. As stated under the Federal Drug Paraphernalia Statute, “it is illegal to possess, sell, transport, import, or export drug paraphernalia.” But the industry and demand has grown. As a result, raiding one location at a time has proven ineffective.
Back in 1990, Lana Christine Acty’s head shop, Posters ‘N’ Things, was searched and all of her merchandise was confiscated. After she spent time in jail, her store was fined $75,000. In 1997 Akhil Kumar Mishra and his wife, Rajeshwari, owners of two head shops, were put in jail after their head shops were raided. Their financial and computer records were seized, which lead officials to big drug paraphernalia wholesalers and drug dealing buyers. Although the charges on shop owners were harsh, it hasn’t scared off others, whose bong stores and pipe shops continue to pop up. This brings up the argument: should our government spend the time and money to enforce this law when we have bigger problems to attend to?
According to a recent press release, Attorney General John Ashcroft advocates the use of federal funds in order to enforce the operation. “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,” said Ashcroft.
With the help of Drug Czar John Walters and DEA Administrator John Brown, Ashcroft developed Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter, the most widespread anti-paraphernalia raid that went into action three weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different than drug dealers. They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide,” explains Brown.
Their first big attempt to stop drug paraphernalia “dealers” consisted of a sneak attack on head shop owners, drug paraphernalia distributors and manufacturers. On February 24th, (the event came to be known as 2/24), more than 2,000 federal, state, and local officials across the country coordinated busts that resulted in the confiscation of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and led to the dissection of computers, freezing of bank accounts and shutting down websites. Not only were the businesses raided, so were the shop owner’s private homes. Fifty-six people were charged and faced up to a maximum sentence of three years in jail and a $200,000 fine.
The first to plead guilty was Tommy Chong, the famous pothead from the Cheech and Chong movies and more recently, star of That Seventies Show. Chong Glass, as his pipe and bong business was called, was raided after he signed a bong for undercover agents during one of his autograph sessions. Beginning this month, he will begin his six to twelve month jail sentence.
American citizens are aware of the bigger problems overlooked by Ashcroft and his policies. Tracie Lynn Zimmerman, who was also indicted on 2/24, explained her frustration and bewilderment.
“As I was sitting in the squad car, I kept saying, ‘Why are you doing this? We’re going to war and you guys are worrying about me?'” said Zimmerman, as quoted in a recent Rolling Stone article.
Debra McCorkle’s angry rant on alternet.org, titled Operation Pipe Dreams Is a Nightmare, claimed that: “[Mr. Brown’s] equation of bong-makers with drug traffickers is ludicrous at best It seems a waste of resources to carry out Operation Pipe Dreams in order to ensure that 55 pipe-sellers will no longer be on the streets while terrorist cells await their orders in the heartland of America. Doesn’t Ashcroft have better things to do?”
McCorkle continues on to point out that gun silencers can be sold to anyone with a credit card over the internet, but yet the government thinks it’s more important to focus on closing down online head shops. Since 2/24, not only actual shops have been slammed by the DEA, many paraphernalia selling websites have been shut down — pipesforyou.com, jeromebaker.com, 420now.com and many more. For anyone who has ever bought a bong online, the police now have access to your transaction information on record! E-bay (the popular online trading network) is just about the only website in the United States where you can purchase a bong. Looks like you’ll just have to by your drug paraphernalia on an international website and pay the overseas shipping.
Although Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter has only begun to make a dent in closing drug related businesses, a lot of lives have already been affected by the raids including bong manufacturers, glass blowers, website designers, store owners and their employees, and the consumers.
“We’ll either have to stock up on glass pieces before the rest of the shops close, or smoke a whole lot of joints,” said a local Miami pot smoker.
Most of the people affected already have a plan to get around or stop the operations.
“They just lit a fire under tens of thousands of artists’ asses,” one glassblower told Cannabis Culture magazine. “Not one person in my field will forget to vote come re-election, guaranteed. Also, many of us are considering running for office ourselves. Most of us are young, and that means we have more energy to fight than 50-year-old politicians we can make a lot of noise and we will!”