The Supreme Court decision upholding bans on the sale of drug paraphernalia was applauded yesterday by officials in the Washington area who believe the ruling strengthens similar laws in Maryland and Virginia.
"I am thrilled to death," said Maryland Assistant Attorney General Linda Lamone.
In its ruling, the court said that a 1978 antiparaphernalia ordinance adopted in Hoffman Estates, Ill., was constitutional. The Illinois ordinance bans the sale of rolling paper and other accessories of drug use to minors and requires all purchasers to sign a roster for police inspection.
Neither Maryland nor Virginia went that far in the laws the two states enacted in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Instead, they generally forbid the sale of devices used or intended to be used with drugs. But in writing their antiparaphernalia laws, both Maryland and Virginia used language from the model developed by the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Hoffman Estates also used definitions from the DEA model.
"The drug paraphernalia industry has been saying there is no way to draft a constitutional law," Lamone said. "But the states and the Drug Enforcement Agency said they could do it. This court decision proves it was done."
The District of Columbia has paraphernalia legislation pending in the City Council that is patterned after the DEA model.
The Maryland and Virginia laws have both survived court challenges from the paraphernalia industry. In Maryland, the plaintiff dropped the case after losing a motion to delay the enforcement of the law. In Virginia, a federal judge ruled last July that the drug paraphernalia law was constitutional. Notice of an appeal of that ruling has been filed with the court of appeals, but in the meantime police are enforcing the law.
The effectiveness of the laws is the subject of debate.
Alexandria police, for instance, said that their town has been essentially cleaned up, thanks to the Virginia ban. "We had a couple of places here selling it paraphernalia ," said Capt. Larry Brohard. "And as soon as the law passed, we went around and had a nice little chat with them and followed it up with enforcement. We charged one clerk with selling paraphernalia and got a conviction in court. And to my knowledge, we don't have anybody selling paraphernalia in town now."
Fairfax City police Detective Douglas Cromarty said, however, that he hasn't noticed any reduction in drug paraphernalia in his area.
To advocates of the bans such as Bob Kramer, coordinator of a drug and alcohol program in Anne Arundel County, the laws are an important signal to children.
"As a society, we were giving out conflicting signals--that drugs were bad but paraphernalia was legal," said Kramer, adding: "The paraphernalia laws have removed a confusing message."