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A Matter of Perception


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Ontario - Ontario Police Chief Mike Kee said Tuesday he hopes to force what he asserts to be a downtown drug paraphernalia shop, Old School, to operate within the Oregon Revised Statutes ( ORS ) by filing a civil complaint in Malheur County Circuit Court.

"Where we would like to get is to a point where what she's doing is authorized by the law" he said. "It's all I can do."

The owner of Old School and the defendant in the complaint, Victoria Miller, said she has always operated within the law. And, she said, she thinks of her business as a tobacco accessory and art shop, not one that sells drug paraphernalia.

"I sell nothing illegal," Miller said. "I don't understand this. I have done nothing illegal. Everything I sell here is for tobacco use only."

The difference of opinion may boil down to a few key words in the Oregon Revised Statutes ( ORS ). The civil complaint asserts Miller sold, delivered and possessed with intent to sell numerous products constituting drug paraphernalia.

Miller conceded she does sell vaporizers and other medical devices to those who hold state cards allowing them to use marijuana under Oregon's medical marijuana laws.

The civil complaint also asserts Miller knew that at least some of the drug paraphernalia would be used to unlawfully cultivate, produce, test, contain or introduce into the human body a controlled substance.

"We do believe she is knowingly doing these things," Kee said. "She can't deliver or possess these items if she knows they are to be used for marijuana."

Miller said she knew nothing of the sort.

She said she is not responsible for what people do with the products they buy once they leave her store.

"If I sold a gun and somebody went out and killed someone, would I be responsible?" she asked.

The civil complaint seeks a penalty of $10,000, the highest allowed under ORS 475.525. If collected, the money would go to the state to be used for drug abuse prevention and adolescent treatment.

The complaint also asks that Miller not be allowed to sell, deliver or possess any drug paraphernalia, and that she pay the city's legal fees in the case. If the city loses, it would have to pay Miller's legal fees, though she said Tuesday she intends to sue for a lot more.

Kee said the focus on Old School began after he received several complaints from downtown merchants about suspicious activity when the store opened in May 2006 a few doors down from its present location.

He said his department began an investigation, and the building's landlord asked Miller to move. Since the move, Kee said, he continues to receive calls from downtown businesses concerned about Miller's customers loitering around the shop, though Kee said there is no law against that. He said the customers and activity of Old School are just "out of character" with Ontario's downtown.

Miller said she sees it differently.

"I promote a lot of business for Ontario," she said.

She explained that 90 percent of her customers come from Idaho, where the kind of glass pipes she sells are illegal, but also from all over the Northwest and even Alaska. Those customers shop and eat in the downtown area, she said.

"My store brings business to Ontario," Miller said.

She said she wondered why Kee was targeting her shop, when New Vizions, just down the street, sells the same kind of pipes, plus items she considers pornographic and will not allow in her store. Kee said he did investigate New Vizions, and what he learned convinced the city's attorneys in the case to not file a civil complaint about that business right now, though he did not rule out some kind of legal action in the future.

"They do things differently from Old School," Kee said of New Vizions. "Their business practices are somewhat different than Old School."

Kee said he did not want to elaborate on those differences for fear his comments would inadvertently help Miller's defense attorney.

Under ORS 475.525, many of the items in Old School would be defined as drug paraphernalia if they were used with marijuana, but Miller said they are sold only to be used for legal substances like tobacco or cloves. She said she could legally sell an herb called salvia in Oregon, but does not because it is illegal in Louisiana.

According to the ORS, several factors are at play in deciding what is or is not drug paraphernalia. Those factors include: instructions provided with the object concerning its use; materials accompanying the object which explain or depict its use; national and local advertising concerning its use; how the object is displayed for sale; the existence and scope of legitimate uses for the object in the community and any expert testimony that may be introduced concerning its use. The ORS said its provisions do not apply to people registered under Oregon's medical marijuana law.

Miller said she has spoken with Kee in the past and tried to address all his concerns.

She said he objected to the fake marijuana leis she sold, so she threw them away.

He objected to legal magazines like "High Times" and "Cannabis Culture" being displayed close to the pipes, so she moved them to the back of the store.

He objected to the synthetic urine she sells because it could be used to throw off a drug test, so she put it in a secure glass case.

Miller said because she put all her tobacco products behind the counter, she could legally allow unaccompanied juveniles in her store, but she refuses to let anyone under the age of 18 in without an adult and checks identifications carefully.

What the store does offer, Miller said, is glass art and pipes by world-renowned artists Maurice Braun and Bob Snodgrass, shirts, some tobacco products and posters. She said she refuses to sell any products that could conceivably be used with meth.

"Meth destroyed my brother," Miller said. "To me, it's the worst drug in the world."

As for herself, Miller said, "I've never used illegal drugs. I don't recommend that anyone do. They're illegal for a reason."

Source: Argus Observer (OR)
Copyright:2007 Ontario Argus Observer
Contact: editor@argusobserver.com
Website: The Argus Observer | Online - Front
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