Drug Task Force Targets Smoke Shops Instead of Problem

In El Cajon, Calif., once known as the “”methamphetamine capital of the world,”” smoke shop owners have recently been pestered by police about selling glass pipes. Selling pipes in a smoke shop, who would have thought?

Priscilla Lazaro/Guardian

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gianera, a member of the Methamphetamine Strike Force – which is charged with fighting methamphetamine use and distribution in San Diego county – told the San Diego Union-Tribune that smoke shop owners will now be held accountable for selling items that could be used to smoke illegal substances.

If that’s the case, the city’s Methamphetamine Strike Force might as well start confiscating pens from Staples, which are much cheaper than glass pipes and work just as well. Or maybe law enforcement could tackle underage binge drinking by seizing shot glasses.

It’s ridiculous to confiscate glass pipes simply because there’s a possibility that people could use them to smoke methamphetamine.

Ironically, Gianera also told the Union-Tribune that other devices that could possibly be used to smoke marijuana were not confiscated. Is methamphetamine Big Brother’s target drug of the month? If the San Diego Strike Force wants to wage a war on drugs, at least wage a war on all drugs instead of seemingly focusing on one drug over the other.

Sure, the intent of the Methamphetamine Strike Force is good – but so are the smoke shop owners’ intents. Up In Smoke store manager Donovan Small told the Union-Tribune that it’s not his job to monitor what his customers do with his products once they leave the store. Managers say that their smoke shops are legitimate businesses and all their products are meant for use with legal products such as tobacco; the glass pipes are designed to filter tobacco.

Pens are meant for writing, but could be used to smoke methamphetamine. In fact, Joe Nolley, member of Shelbyville, Ind., police department’s narcotics division, said on the department’s Web site that a good way to see if someone is smoking methamphetamine is to look for empty pen cartridges. If this is the case, shouldn’t the Strike Force do something about pens as well?

After all, even though pens were designed to be benign, they have the possibility of functioning in an illegal way. Methods of methamphetamine use are almost limitless, and it’s futile to fight the drug war by attacking the methods themselves. The problem is not how meth users are using the drug, but rather that they are able to obtain the drug in the first place. It would be more effective to concentrate on hitting them where it hurts by curtailing the actual production or availability of methamphetamine, or increasing awareness among young people and devoting more financial resources to rehabilitation and treatment programs.

Small also said that the confiscation raid only takes money from smoke shops and is highly skeptical that simply taking away glass pipes will deter methamphetamine users. Smoke shops are already placed under plenty of regulations, including zoning restrictions. Confiscating shop items because they can be used for illicit purposes is really overkill.

What matters most is that smoke shop owners aren’t promoting drug use. In fact, they’re against drug use as much as anyone else. Puff ‘N Stuff smoke shop in El Cajon has signs and policies indicating that if a customer shows any sign of illegal intent, the shop will refuse to sell to that customer. Owners are consciously aware of the fact that their products could be used illegally and are taking steps to prevent it as much as they can. They don’t need law enforcement to forcefully take away products that can possibly be harmful.

Small also told the Union-Tribune that he doesn’t think that removing glass p ipes will necessarily stop methamphetamine users. And it won’t. There are too many other alternatives to glass pipes, such as using light bulbs, or even snorting or injecting methamphetamine instead of smoking it.

San Diego’s East County law enforcement has already given retail outlets and pharmacies brochures informing them about possible products that could be used to make methamphetamine, so that owners are aware and can better monitor suspicious purchases. Law enforcement should have done the same thing with the smoke shop owners, instead of outright confiscating their products.

If San Diego really wants to fight methamphetamine use, then it should pursure more effective measures instead of taking pipes off of the shelves of smoke shops and heckling shop owners about selling potentially dangerous items.

According to a report released by the criminal justice research division of the San Diego Association of Governments in June 2006, drug use among juveniles has increased since 2004. Methamphetamine use in particular has risen 8 percent among youth. And only 34 percent of juveniles interviewed who were dependent on drugs were found to have received treatment for their drug addiction. In addition, only 39 percent of those who sought rehabilitation reported completing treatment. This goes to show that there is obviously something flawed about the drug rehabilitation program and that a key step in fighting the war on methamphetamine should be to invest in improving the success rates of rehabilitation and treatment programs available to drug addicts – not simply taking glass pipes off of store shelves.