The city’s police commissioners are cracking down on what they say are the growing influence of “drug paraphernalia” in the city, and they want local businesses to stop carrying the items or display them less prominently. Though it is legal to sell glass pipes and other items marketed for high quality cigarettes and tobacco consumption, law enforcement officials and society in general have long associated them with illegal drug use.
Police Chief David Dubois said in his 28 years as a police officer he has only once come across someone using the paraphernalia for something other than illegal drug use. That was last year, when someone at a college campus in Massachusetts used a water pipe to smoke tobacco, he said.
Foster’s Daily Democrat was able to verify the presence of glass pipes, including some with water filtration systems, at six local businesses. They are sold at Highland Street Convenience, Borderline Beverages, the Shell gas station on North Main Street, George and Ed’s General Store on North Main Street, The Mad Hatter on North Main Street and Signal Street Variety.
The number of available pipes varies by location. Signal Street Variety’s selection is quite small, while shops like the Shell station offer a wide variety of glass smoking devices.
The Mad Hatter, also known as Jimmy’s Smoke Shop, opened just two weeks ago at the old Charlie’s Pizza location. Unlike the other shops that sell the items, The Mad Hatter advertises itself as a smoke shop.
Tucked inside the bongs there are green slips of paper describing the item as a “tobacco pipe”. The notice states U.S. government studies have shown that tobacco smoke filtered through a water pipe contains 50 percent less carcinogenicity than smoke from standard pipes, cigarettes and cigars.
At each location, prominently displayed signs indicate the items are only for tobacco use and are only available to customers 18 years old or older.
Deputy Chief Mike Allen, who said he neither advocates nor opposes the Police Commission’s initiative, cautioned he did not want it to sound as though police are targeting any particular businesses. He stressed that businesses have a right to sell the items and the commissioners are only looking to work together with the business community.
“This issue did not originate with the police department,” he said. “It’s not really an enforcement issue.”
Police Commission Chairman Lucien Levesque said the commissioners have noticed an increase in the sale of water pipes within the city. Since a portion of the police budget supports school resource officers who teach the DARE program to the city’s youth, Levesque said the increased visibility of the pipes “undermines our efforts” and the problem “just keeps festering.”
Commissioner Al Bemis said the DARE program explains the dangers of drug use, but when display cases are prominently positioned at the front of stores, it sends mixed messages.
“At least put them in a room where it’s not accessible to the general public,” he said.
Out of their displeasure has grown a desire to engage the business community in a discussion about selling smoking devices. The commissioners crafted a letter they plan to hand deliver to business owners in the next week.
The commissioners provided a copy of the letter to Foster’s. The letter states in part that “the availability of items to facilitate the use of such drugs often characterized as ‘drug paraphernalia’ has been steadily increasing to the extent that the community needs to take a more proactive approach to help deter such drug use. Such items include but are not limited to objects used or intended for ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing marijuana, cocaine or hashish into the human body.”
The letter goes on to state the commissioners understand there are legitimate uses for such items, but “it is hoped that you would consider not selling such items in our community in an effort to set an example that Rochester does not condone or otherwise appear to promote the use of illegal drugs.”
“I don’t know there’s anything we can do about it,” Bemis said, but the three commissioners are “all on the same page” on this issue.
Speaking with business owners is only part of the commission’s initiative. Levesque said they also intend to address the issue with parents and hope to form a coalition against drug paraphernalia.
The commissioners pointed to the high prices water pipes and bongs sell for. At local shops, small pipes can be as inexpensive as $4, while larger, more ornate items cost $50, $60 or more than $100. Levesque said he hopes parents start to look more closely at where their children spend their money.
Dubois said he supports the commission’s efforts. “It’s a community concern issue,” he added. “I support the discussion and having officers take part in any way they can that’s appropriate.”
Other communities have tried to limit the sale of water pipes in the past. Dubois recalled that Dover implemented an ordinance that was eventually challenged and overturned by the Supreme Court.
Attempts to discuss the issue with business owners were largely unsuccessful. On some occasions, no manager or owner was available for comment. Other times, people discussed the issue but declined to identify themselves.
Those who spoke noted the signs clearly stating the pipes are for tobacco use only. Some said people who would use the devices for illegal activity would engage in that activity even if the pipes were not sold in Rochester. Other comments noted selling the items in Rochester keeps money local, like any other business.
Steve Lambert, the manager at Signal Street Variety, said the products are a “very, very minute part of our business” and “we don’t need that to survive.”