They come in every size, shape and color these smoking implements, tall ones, short ones, glass onces, handmade ones of wood or ceramic, some with long hoses attached. They have trademarks like "Hand-Made" and "Moon Beam I" (as opposed to Moon Beam II).
These various and assorted bongs are readily available in almost any price range, in head shops around Washington and at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW, where a long-haired vendor displaying his wares casually calls out the day's best buy: "Free screens with every pipe!"
Next to the bongs and the row of small $1 wooden pipes are the rolling papers for the cannabis connoisseur, in brands familiar to any serious head -- Insta-Roach, Bambu, Club and E-Z Wider.
All this is the paraphernalia of the drug culture, the standard tools of the trade of lovers of hashish and/-or herb (marijuana to the uninitiated), grown in fields from South America to California and in window boxes around Dupont Circle. District of Columbia politicians and law enforcement officials, grappling with a drug problem that many citizens fear has reached epidemic proportions, have all but conceded that the war to stop the import of drugs is a lost cause at the local level.
But two District of Columbia City Council members have decided that if they can't stop the drug trade, the least they can do is ban the sale of its paraphernalia.
The proposed drug paraphernalia ban is sponsored by council members Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At-Large), a Baptist minister, and William Spaulding (D-Ward 5), whose middle-class black Northeast Washington ward includes many churches and conservative residents steeped in church tradition. The last time these two teamed up in a joint effort was to ask Congress to overturn the voter-passed initiative to legalize certain forms of gambling in Washington.
Their latest proposal to ban drug paraphernalia adopts the pattern used successfully in Maryland and upheld in Maryland courts. But with the District's liberal City Council, the bill is likely to face some stiff opposition.
City Council member David a. Clarke, the liberal-leaning chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which probably will handle the legislation, already has referred to the drug paraphernalia ban as a "knee-jerk" approach that doesn't really solve the problem.
But cosponsor Spaulding thinks there is enough community outcry against local drug trafficking to put political pressure on a reluctant council to pass his bill. "Being against (the bill) is like being against motherhood," he said.
The bill defines drug paraphernalia as basically any object that can be used with drugs. The list in the Moore-Spaulding bill includes: scales, sifters (often used to separate the seeds out of a particularly stubborn batch of marijuana), blenders, bowls, envelopes, syringes, pipes, roach clips, bongs and spoons.
In determining when such objects are intended for drug use, the bill says courts can rely on how close the object is to a known drug when found, whether any drug residue is found on the object, whether the object comes with any instructions for drug use and whether there are any legitimate uses for the object in the community.
The Moore-Spaulding bill proposes that anyone caught selling drug paraphernalia be subject to a maximum six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. For second offenders, the maximum penalty would be two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The proposed bill also carries a 30-day jail sentenced and a $100 fine for any person caught possessing drug paraphernalia, a provision clarke thinks could unfairly penalize many young persons by giving them a criminal record. "It seems to me that it's one of those knee-jerk, do-something approaches," Clarke said. "I get the feeling of a sense of desperation on the part of a lot of us to do something to get narcotics off the streets."
But Spaulding called bill "part of a comprehensive thrust at crime" that he initiated at the request of many of his Ward 5 constituents concerned about a recent wave of house burglaries. "The availability of drugs is a part of crime and the paraphernalia is a part of drugs which we can control," he said.
At least some law enforcement officials agree. "I support it," said Inspector Winfred K. Coligan, who heads the police department's narcotics division. "It would certainly have an impact on narcotics trafficking. It wouldn't give the idea to those who haven't practiced it."
"It's not only the stores," Coligan added, "but the vendors on the streets. When you have things on open display like that, it sort of undermines everything we're trying to do."