Today the Pinellas County Commission unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance to make it more difficult to sell products that could be used to take illegal drugs. Owners of local smoke shops that sell pipes, hookahs and rolling papers say their merchandise is legal and if they can’t sell those items, neither should other retailers.

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At Purple Haze Tobacco and Accessories on 34th Street South in St Petersburg employees are trained to be vigilant. They have a black list of words that if customers mentions will promptly get them kicked out of the shop, and employees reckon they kick out about half of the people who walk in the front door. These words imply illegal drug use and include terms such as “bong,� “roach� or “chillum�.

This is what happened to a customer trying to buy a detoxification kit that some use to legally cleanse their system and others to fool urine tests for illegal drug use.

ACT: can’t sell you anything today

The ordinance passed by the Commission raises the standard for retailers. Before, sellers of drug paraphernalia could only be prosecuted if it was proved that they knew the item would be used for illegal drug use. Under the new ordinance, a retailer only has to have reasonable knowledge that their merchandise could be used to take illegal drugs. But as County Attorney Carl Brodie explained, the burden of proof falls into the lap of law enforcement.


The ordinance has six parts to it. It prohibits minors from entering shops selling would-be drug paraphernalia and would not allow such a store to be within one thousand feet of a school. It establishes the “reasonable knowledge� clause, that says a seller should reasonably know what his items will be used for. Advertisements of possible drug paraphernalia is banned, and so is the sale of chemical substances that could be used to get high, such as nitrous oxide which is used to make whip cream or in paint ball guns. And, it establishes a possible jail sentence of up to 60 days to allow the sheriff to make any necessary arrests.

The opposition came out in force at the commission meeting. Allen Berger owns Balls of Steel in Gulfport, a piercing and tattoo shop that also sells smoking accessories, which he says are mainly used legally. He presented the results of an informal survey he took of a 100 of his customers.


Pete Donnelly of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, says that many cancer and AIDS patients legally use marijuana for medical reasons, which is supplied by the government.


Donelly said that these patients rely on paraphernalia such as the vaporizer, which allows a very clean ingestion of smoke that causes very little damage to lungs.

Attorney Brandon Cole represented a few of the local smoke shops affected by the new ordinance. He told the commission that the task force responsible for researching the issue and recommending the ordinance failed to look at one very important factor.


And Purple Haze owner Leo Calzadilla presented a professional quality video he made to the commission arguing his side. Calzadilla who has often argued that anything can be used to smoke drugs from parts one can buy at Home Depot to an apple to the water pipes he sells at his store. But Calzadilla insisted that the hookahs and water pipes he sells are used for tobacco. That prompted Commission chair Ken Welch to ask:


In June 2004 Calzadilla found himself in the eye of the anti-paraphernalia storm when attorney and former leader of the N-double-A-C-P Darryl Rouson entered the shop on a crusade to highlight the sale of drug paraphernalia. He was asked to leave and damaged some of the merchandise, leading to his arrest. Many believe Rouson used his influence with the commission to bring the law onto the books as a personal vendetta against Calzadilla. That’s a charge denied by Commission chair Ken Welch.


Back at Purple Haze, employee Jillian Tabares says that the Middle Eastern style hookahs which are used to smoke flavored tobacco called shisha are all the rage with college students who come to the store’s new hookah café.

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Outro: Democratic State Representative Frank Peterman of St Petersburg told the county commission that his efforts to push a similar law onto the state books were stalled during the spring legislative session but will be revived this fall.

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