Representatives of the drug paraphernalia industry filed suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court yesterday challenging two new county laws that ban the possession and sale of devices designed to facilitate illegal drug use.
The Mid Atlantic Accessories Trade Association and several Washington area manufacturers and distributors of drug paraphernalia claimed the laws are so vague they would prohibit the sale of "items commonly found in any household, hardware store, grocery store or department store."
Judge Howard S. Chasanow denied the group's request for a temporary injunction to block the laws from going into effect and said he will hear arguments in the case on Jan. 29.
The suit charged the laws are an "unreasonable and unworkable method" of controlling illicit drug use and added the legislation unfairly interferes with legitimate business activities.
The bills, which wre passed by the Prince George's County Council a month ago, are the first laws of their kind in the Washington area. But there has been a groundswell of support for similar measures elsewhere in Maryland, and the Carter administration recently proposed a model anti-paraphernalia law for state and local governments.
Several attempts to legislate against the burgeoning paraphernalia industry have been struck down by federal courts in Illinois, Texas, Georgia and New Jersey. But supporters of the measures say recent attempts to develop more carefully crafted legislation have been successful in some communities.
One of the Prince George's County laws prohibits the possession, sale, delivery and advertisement of items such as water pipes, scales, needles, shifters and capsules that are used to clean or ingest illicit drugs. The measure signed this week by County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan also bans ballons, envelopes and other containers intended for use in packaging small quantities of drugs.
The law carries a maximum jail term of six months and a maximum fine of $1,000.
The plaintiffs in the suit claim many of the banned items have legitimate uses unrelated to drugs and that they "are unable to determine exactly which items in their inventory are proscribed . . . and which are not. Plaintiffs are being and will be forced to guess which items prohibited as 'paraphernalia' . . . An incorrect guess will subject them to immediate prosecution."
The second law empowers the county to refuse to license any shop selling the prohibited devices and to revoke licenses already issued.
Fred Joseph, a lawyer for the industry group, said the laws are impossible to enforce because "no standards are enunciated for determining there has been a violation. How is a police officer to know that a particular pipe is designed for smoking a 'controlled dangerous substance' and not for smoking tobacco?"
County Executive Hogan said he recognized the enforcement problem posed by the laws.
"Are you going to raid all the drug stores and confiscate needles?" he asked. "Most states have laws against fornication and adultery, too, but they don't enforce them. It's the same with litter laws."