Prince George's County yesterday became the first locality in the Washington area to crack down on the growing drug paraphernalia industry.
After an hour of testimony, the County Council voted 8 to 2 in support of a bill that would ban the possession, sale, delivery and advertisement of drug-use devices. It then also voted 9 to 0 in favor of a second bill to prohibit the licensing of drug-device stores.
The Prince George's ban is one of a number of efforts around the country to eliminate the widespread availability of the drug-use devices. County Executive Lawrence Hogan said he planned to sign the bill, thus enacting it into law.
In Maryland, State Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut (D-Montgomery), will sponsor legislation to ban drug paraphernalia when the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January.
Several previous attempts in other areas to legislate against the burgeoning paraphernalia industry have been struck down or rejected because they were considered unconstitutionally vague. The difficulty results from the fact many of the devices have legitmate uses.
Fred Joseph, a lawyer representing the Mid-Atlantic Accessories Trade Associaton at yesterday's council sesion, said that both bills are "too vague. They leave it up to the shopkeeper to determine the intent of those who purchase items, whether they are going to use them or not."
A pipe sold in one of the county's head shops, for instance, can be used to smoke tobacco, he said, adding. "A lot of these problems have multiple uses which are not illegal."
Among the items mentioned in the ban are water pipes, scales, needles, kits used to plant or harvest drugs such as marijuana, sifters and other devices for cleaning marijuana; capsules, balloons, envelopes and other containers intended for use in packaging small quantities of drugs, and pipes, masks, clips and chillers used to ingest drugs.
The bill would make punishment a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a maximum of six months in jail.
The council did not indicate how the ban would be enforced.
Gerard T. McDonough, the councilman who sponsored the ban, said yesterday that the bill was based on the Model Drug Paraphernalia Act issuedd by the Drug Enforcement Administration in August and therefore should be able to withstand court challenges.
"Perhaps aspects of the bill will not stand up in court but it's up to the court to decide these things and it's up to us to legislate and put the question before the courts," he said.
McDonough said he proposed the ban because of the "ambivalent signal we are sending out. We say the drugs are illegal but allow the sale of items intended for durg use."
Representatives of county stores that sell drug paraphernalia said at yesterday's meeting that like any other business, they simply are responding to customer demand when they sell drug devices.