A federal judge in Baltimore yesterday upheld Maryland's sweeping new law banning the use, possession, manufacture or sale of drug paraphernalia and said the measure was properly "designed to assist in controlling a pressing problem [drug abuse] of modern-day life."
U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey ruled that the law, which prohibits such accessories to illegal drug use as pipes, scales, needles, blenders, spoons and balloons, is not unconstitutionally vague because it requires proof that the items were intended for use with illegal drugs before any prosecution can occur.
Harvey's decision resulted from a suit filed against the state last spring after the legislature overwhelmingly adopted the politically popular measure and Gov. Harry Hughes signed it into law.
The suit by a trade association and three businesses that manufacture, distribute and sell various drug devices charged that the new law unfairly curtailed their businesses, would not have the desired effect of curtailing the use of illegal drugs and was unconstitutionally broad and vague because it banned items commonly found in hardware stores, supermarkets and department stores. Harvey rejected all these arguments when he upheld the statute.
Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs said yesterday he will immediately inform state prosecutors throughout Maryland that they should begin enforcing the new measure. Enforcement of the law had been held in abeyance throughout the suit because of a court order and voluntary agreement by Sachs' office.
Sachs said local police forces will be responsible for enforcing the new law. He said he expects them to focus their efforts on "local head shops and not the kids on the College Park [University of Maryland] campus." Law enforcement officials contacted throughout the state yesterday said they did not know yet how they would enforce the new measure.
Fred Joseph, attorney for the four paraphernalia businesses, said he will ask Harvey today to stay enforcement of the order until an appeal can be heard by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. Joseph said he expects the case to end up before the Supreme Court.
Joseph said Harvey's ruling, if immediately put into effect, "could cause problems for all stores, including drugstores and supermarkets. The local policeman on the beat will now have the right to go into any store and determine what is and what isn't drug paraphernalia."
The ruling by Harvey, which followed a three-day trial last month, is the sixth time a drug paraphernalia law patterned on a Justice Department model statute has been upheld by a federal district court judge.
Before the model law was prepared by federal authorities for distribution to state and local governments in 1979, most antidrug device laws were struck down for being unconstitutionally vague. Since that time, however, the model act has been enacted by about 10 state legislatures, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Florida.
It has also been approved by several local governments including Prince George's County, which became the first Washington area jurisdiction to crack down on the growing drug paraphernalia industry when it adopted two measures late last year.
The Prince George's bills, one based on the model act and one prohibiting the licensing of head shops anywhere in the county, also are being challenged before Judge Harvey by the four paraphernalia businesses. Harvey did not rule on that challenge yesterday.
The law upheld yesterday will outlaw the manufacture, sale and possession of about 50 items commonly associated with drug usage, such as bongs, water pipes, cigarette rolling papers and so-called "roach clips," provided they are intended for use with illegal drugs. A person can still buy any of the items cited without violating the law if the items will not be used to consume drugs.
The penalties for violating the new law range from a $500 fine for a first offense to a $15,000 fine and up to eight years in jail for any adult convicted of "delivering" drug paraphernalia to a minor more than three years his junior.