TALLAHASSEE, FL — As of today, the sale of most pipes, water pipes and bongs will be banned in Florida as a bill passed by lawmakers in April and signed by the Governor in June takes effect. But are they really banned?
Under the new law, it is now a first-degree misdemeanor for any retailer “to knowingly and willfully sell drug paraphernalia.” Second and subsequent violations jump to a third-degree felony.
As initially drafted, House Bill 49 was intended to ban the sale of the following smoking devices: metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic smoking pipes, with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls; water pipes; carburetion tubes and devices; chamber pipes; carburetor pipes; electric pipes; air-driven pipes; chillums; bongs; ice pipes or chillers.
The only pipes that the bill specifies will still be allowed for sale in Florida must be made of briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob.
The bill establishes five new crimes: use or possession of drug paraphernalia, manufacture or delivery of drug paraphernalia, delivery of drug paraphernalia to a minor, transportation of drug paraphernalia, and advertisement of drug paraphernalia.
“Rather than just regulating them, let’s just ban them,” Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), a recovering crack addict turned lawmaker who authored the bill. “If we can make people drive to Georgia and Alabama and South Carolina to get fireworks, they can drive to get these utensils of death.”
“We want to put out of business anyone selling paraphernalia used for smoking pot, crack or anything of that nature,” said Rep. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando), a co-sponsor of the bill. “I don’t know of anybody that uses a glass pipe for tobacco.”
The new law, however, is vague and lacks the potential for enforcement. According to the bill, the entire text of which can be read here:
It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and willfully sell or offer for sale at retail any drug paraphernalia … other than a pipe that is primarily made of briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob.
According to an analysis of the bill by the Florida House of Representatives:
It is important to note the items included as drug paraphernalia … are not illegal to possess unless they are used, intended for use, or designed for use in a specified manner.
Karan Rana, who operates a Daytona Beach convenience store that carries a small selection of glass pipes, says that while the store sells both the pipes and tobacco, he can not control what a customer does with a pipe once the purchase is made and the customer leaves the store.
Jay Work, owner of Grateful J’s, a small chain of Florida smoke shops, says the bill changes nothing, and come Monday, it will be business as usual at his four locations.
“It doesn’t change a thing in the way we do business,” Work said, emphasizing that his shops have always refused sales to any customer referencing illegal substances.
“I don’t sell drugs, I don’t sell pipes to people who say they want to do drugs. If someone mentions the word bong, I kick them out of the store,” he added.
Work is founder of the Florida Smoke Shop Association, an industry organization of smoke shop owners, vendors and glass blowers formed in April to fight the “bong bill” as it worked through the legislature.
The association was able to raise over $100,000 to fight the bill, successfully lobbying for changes that reduced the bill’s effectiveness.
The bill’s author, Rep. Rouson admits that the bill as passed only makes it illegal for retailers to sell the products for use with illegal drugs instead of tobacco use, essentially removing the bill’s effectiveness.
“I’m disappointed in the ultimate outcome that passed out of the legislature and went to the governor,” said Rouson. “The original bill would have banned and prohibited the retail sale of pipes.”
Rouson says that the version that became law July 1st essentially only affirms existing Florida law prohibiting stores from “knowingly or willingly” selling pipes for illegal drug use.
But some law enforcement officials think the bill is just enough to take “appropriate enforcement action,” although they admit that the law won’t have an impact on drug use in the state.
Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said that his deputies will offer a warning before any police action is taken against shops they feel may be in violation of the new law.
“For those businesses that are selling banned items, they will get one warning from us to come into compliance or face the criminal sanctions provided for in the law,” Johnson said, adding that the deputies will make follow up visits to those businesses to ensure compliance before any “appropriate enforcement action” is taken.
“We’re under no illusion,” Johnson added, “that this law will have a significant impact on the use of marijuana and other illegal drugs.”