A federal judge ruled yesterday that Virginia's controversial drug paraphernalia law is constitutional and dissolved his earlier order prohibiting police from enforcing it in Alexandria and in Fairfax and Prince William counties.
District Judge Albert Byran Jr. rejected arguments by a Washingtion organization seeking repeal of marijuana laws and a tobacco accessories trade products groups that the state legislature exceeded its power in enacting the statute. "The act is clearly within the constitutional power of the state and . . . it furthers a legitimate governmental interest," the judge said.
The law, which took effect July 1 in all but the three Northern Virginia jurisdictions, is designed to curb the use of drugs by prohibiting sale of devices such as marijuana pipes and marijuana cigarette holders called "roach clips," that are used largely with illicit drugs.
Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, who had interrupted his campaign for governor to defend the law in court, hailed the ruling as "a victory for Virginia's efforts to stop the growing drug traffic in the state." He called the law "a good law enforcement tool, one that should be fully utilized."
Arlington prosecutor Henry Hudson said that though his jurisdiction was never affected by the earlier enforcement ban, "stores that sell these kind of items will be monitored very, very closely in the next several months." k
The Virginia law, similar to measures enacted by 22 states, was challenged by the National Organization for the Reform of Majijuana Laws and by a tobacco accessories trade group. They won the earlier courtk order from Byran by arguing that the law violated freedom of speech by encouraging police to seize anti-marijuana law literature as evidence of a merchant's intent to sell his wares for use with illegal drugs.
John Grad, an Alexandria lawyer who represented the marijuana group, expressed disappointment with the decision and said he will ask Byran to reimpose the enforcement ban in the three jurisdictions pending an appeal of the case to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
He claimed opponents of the law registered a partial victory in the ruling with Byran's statement that the law may infringe on his clients' free speech rights.
But Byran held that the impact was "incidental" and said it was not sufficient to invalidate "the act or any part of it on First Amendment grounds. Moreover, the restriction suffered by NORML is no greater than necessary to further the state's interest."
Judge Bryan took issue with a claim by the Virginia Tobacco Accessories Trade Association that the law is too vague and impossible to enforce. Although he noted that the act is "narrower" than a model act drafted by the Justice Department, he ruled that vagueness was not one of its failings.
"This act is not a trap for the innocent, but rather a statute whose sanctions need only concern those whose actions are accompanied by the requisite state of mind," he said.
John Zwerling, a lawyer for the tobacco group, took issue with that late yesterday afternoon, saying the effect of the law is that shopowners "will be prosecuted as to how acute their radar is in determining how a customer intends to use his purchase."
If convicted of violating the law, merchants face up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, virtually all of the state paraphernalia laws have been challenged but a DEA spokesman said "We're way ahead in being upheld."