Federal agents raided three Palm Beach County shops Wednesday, seizing thousands of bongs, pipes and other drug paraphernalia in an ongoing crackdown on South Florida businesses that sell such merchandise.
In an operation dubbed "Up In Smoke," federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been targeting stores that sell drug paraphernalia as part of what they say is the first recent crackdown of its kind in South Florida.
In little more than a year, officials say the federal department has raided 20 so-called head shops in South Florida, including a half-dozen in Palm Beach County. In May, officials confiscated more than $1 million in bongs, pipes and other drug paraphernalia — about 42,000 pieces in all — from a warehouse run by one of the largest distributors of such items in the nation, according to The Associated Press.
On Wednesday, the agents executed search warrants at Wonderland, 2126 Okeechobee Blvd. in suburban West Palm Beach, Grateful J's Too at 2401 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton and Flashback's Deadhead Shop at 1403 W. Boynton Beach Blvd. in Boynton Beach.
None of the owners responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Anthony Mangione, assistant special agent-in-charge at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Fort Lauderdale office, criticized the stores for selling drug-related merchandise he said is geared toward children.
"It's definitely aimed for the minor set," he said. "Bongs and other types of paraphernalia disguised as cartoon characters."
The department is investigating the store owners but has not charged them, Mangione said. They could face charges of distributing drug paraphernalia.
Under federal law, it is illegal to sell any drug paraphernalia, which is defined as any product intended primarily for use in preparing or consuming an illegal drug. Such paraphernalia can include acrylic pipes, water pipes, roach clips and bongs.
The law does not specifically prohibit possessing or buying such equipment, although an Immigration and Customs spokeswoman said doing so could be illegal under certain circumstances.
At Wonderland, outside of West Palm Beach, would-be customers filed up one by one to the store's front door Wednesday afternoon, only to be turned away by federal officials piling merchandise into the back of a truck.
One man, who declined to give his name, scoffed as he walked away from the store, questioning the reasoning behind the raid.
"Well that's the first I'd ever heard that," he said. "I can't put tobacco in a pipe?"