The City Council last week tentatively approved a bill that would make the District one of the few jurisdictions in the country to regulate, rather than ban outright, the sale of drug paraphernalia.
Under the bill, businesses would pay an annual fee of $250 to sell any items "designed or marketed" as drug paraphernalia. The bill would prohibit the sale of paraphernalia to minors aged 17 or under and would ban paraphernalia sales by street or sidewalk vendors.
The bill was approved by voice vote with little discussion following a nearly four-hour session in which the council debated a controversial auto insurance measure.
Council member John Ray (D-At-Large) announced before the vote that he would offer amendments at next Tuesday's council session to ban all sales of drug paraphernalia in the city as surrounding jurisdictions have done.
Ray, a candidate for mayor, contends that simply regulating paraphernalia sales is a "back door" endorsement of illegal drug use.
Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At-Large) and David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), counter that a total ban would be challenged in court and said the bill is based on a law recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and sections of model legislation drafted by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
Moore, a Baptist minister, originally introduced a bill that sought a total ban on paraphernalia sales, but agreed to modify the language during debate in the judiciary committee.
The bill's supporters argue that even in jurisdictions that have passed antiparaphernalia laws, merchants have gotten around the legal restrictions by marketing their goods "for tobacco only." The council bill lists several items, including a variety of pipe smoking devices, miniature spoons and "roach clips," devices used to hold marijuana cigarettes.