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New law aimed at "head shops" may lack teeth


Published:   |   Updated: June 10, 2013 at 06:47 PM

Owners of tobacco and so-called "head" shops say they have no plans to stop selling bongs and glass pipes despite a new ban on the sale of the items beginning July 1.

The bill, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Rick Scott, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to "knowingly and willfully" sell any device classified as drug paraphernalia, which includes bongs and glass, ceramic, acrylic or ceramic smoking pipes.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson, who sponsored the bill, said he is taking aim at the hypocrisy of stores that classify themselves as tobacco outlets but make most of their money from pipes commonly used for smoking marijuana or crack.

"Why make it easy as a corner-store to get a pipe that everyone knows is being used for illegal drugs?" Rouson said.

Store owners, though, say the bill does no more than duplicate a current federal law and that stores only run afoul of the law if they sell pipes or other items to a customer who admits it is for illegal drug use.

The bill is the latest salvo in an ongoing and sometimes bitter dispute between Rouson, a self-described former crack addict, and Florida tobacco shop owners and glass pipe manufacturers who banded together to fight the law passed this year and others sponsored by Rouson.

Rouson first tried to limit the sale of glass pipes in 2009, proposing a sales tax to raise money for drug treatment and prevention programs.

That bill died, but he was more successful the following year with a bill that limited sale of the pipes and bongs to tobacco stores that can prove at least 75 percent of their revenue comes from the sale of tobacco and only 25 percent from sale of the pipes. Enforcement of the law, though, was delayed by a legal challenge from a coalition of tobacco store owners.

Leo Calzadilla, owner of Purple Haze Tobacco and Accessories stores in St. Petersburg and Madeira Beach, said he has no plans to change the store's inventory, which includes colorful glass pipes and bong-shaped water pipes.

The products he sells are used to smoke tobacco, and Rouson's bill makes no more sense than to try and ban kitchen knives because they have been used in stabbings, Calzadilla said.

The law likely will not significantly change the way police officers deal with head shops, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz. Police department lawyers will review the law before deciding whether to brief officers on its enforcement, he said.

Calzadilla said Rouson is retaliating because of a 2004 incident when Rouson was arrested and convicted of misdemeanor trespassing after clashing with staff at Purple Haze Tobacco and Accessories on 34th Street South.

"What Rouson did was wasted taxpayers valuable time and money," Calzadilla said. "He is using his political power for a personal vendetta."

Since losing the battle over the 2010 law, store owners and about a dozen independent glass blowers have formed the Florida Smoke Shop Association to represent their interests.

The association has about 70 members and hired a lobbying firm that was successful in watering down Rouson's bill, said President Jay Work.

"We're very happy with the way the bill went through; it doesn't affect us negatively," he said.

Work owns four Grateful Jay's "dead head" shops in South Florida, Stores such as his are thriving businesses that contribute to the economy and pay sales tax, he said.

"We're tired of being picked on," he said. "We are legitimate business people."

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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