Time to learn how to make a pipe out of an apple -- the Bush
administration has declared war on drug paraphernalia

Photographs:

[about 30 multicolored glass bongs on store shelf] caption: Since
February, when the feds raided head shops, displays like this have
largely disappeared.

caption: Tommy Chong after pleading guilty to paraphernalia charges.
He faces a year in jail.

[movie still from Cheech and Chong movie] caption: In the 1970s,
Cheech and Chong were poster boys for pot. Now Chong (left) is a
casualty of the bong crackdown.

[plainclothes and uniform officers cart away cardboard boxes] caption:
The great American smoke-out: Authorities haul away inventory from an
Idaho head shop that was one of the targets in February's federal raids.

THE CALL CAME AT 6 A.M. ON A MONDAY MORNING IN FEBRUARY. "Hey, Trace,
better get down to the store," a police officer warned. "Somebody's
broken in." Tracie Lynn Zimmerman is 34, a suburban Girl Scout mom and
college graduate, with a degree in elementary education. For the last
four years, she has also been the proprietor of Heads-N-Threads, a
clothing and smoke shop that is dedicated, as its Web site once
boasted, to providing "the HIGH-est quality products." It is located
in a minimall in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of
Pittsburgh. Zimmerman holds a business license, pays taxes and
contributes to police and fire funds. "I'm not trying to make myself
out to be an angel," she says, "just a normal citizen."

There was nothing normal, though, about "2/24," as the event has come
to be known in cannabis lore. Just three weeks before the beginning of
Operation Iraqi Freedom, the federal government unleashed Operation
Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter, the largest anti-paraphernalia
offensive in United States history. When Zimmerman's fianc=E9, Michael
Anthony Deblasio, pulled up to the store, he was swarmed by more than
two dozen officers -- Drug Enforcement Administration agents, deputy
U.S. marshals, Pennsylvania state troopers -- most of them camouflaged
in SWAT gear, semiautomatic rifles drawn. A few minutes later, they
were at Zimmerman's house, cuffing her hands behind her back. "Mommy's
probably going to have to go with the police," she told her
ten-year-old daughter.

Throughout the morning, a chopper buzzed the sky. A K-9 unit sniffed
for contraband while cops hauled away Heads-N-Threads' inventory in a
big yellow Ryder truck. "It was complete overkill," says Zimmerman,
who, along with Deblasio, spent eight hours in a downtown holding cell
before pleading not guilty to charges of violating federal
drug-paraphernalia laws. "As I was sitting in the squad car, I kept
saying, 'Why are you doing this? We're going to war and you guys are
worrying about me?'"

Across the nation, from Pembroke Pines, Florida to Eugene, Oregon,
more than 2,000 federal, state and local officers were coordinating
similar raids against paraphernalia retailers, distributors and
manufacturers. So far, fifty-six people have been indicted, including
America's quintessential stoner comic, Tommy Chong, who had recently
put his name on a Los Angeles-area pipe and bong studio. Nearly all
have had their merchandise seized, their bank accounts frozen, their
computers dissected and their Web sites unplugged. That February day,
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called a news conference in which
he condemned the paraphernalia business as a billion-dollar industry
that exploits youth culture. "With a click of a mouse, your child's
bedroom or college dorm room could become the showroom in which drug
paraphernalia merchants can advertise, market and sell illegal
products," Ashcroft charged. The offense carries a maximum sentence of
three years in prison and a $200,000 fine.

"People selling drug paraphernalia are, in essence, no different than
drug dealers," added John Brown, acting DEA administrator.

Paraphernalia sellers and manufacturers have been operating in a legal
gray area for years. By denying any knowledge of the consumer's
intent, head shops have been able to peddle chillums and bubblers and
sherlocks and sidecars more or less freely, despite an abundance of
laws prohibiting dope-smoking accessories -- they just label the
merchandise "for tobacco use only" or label the goods "incense burners."

Still, the busts have raised eyebrows. "When you go out and launch
surprise raids and roust people for activity they were engaging in
entirely openly, it's not about enforcing the law," says Ethan
Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York
think tank critical of the Drug War. "It's about using the
criminal-justice system as a political stunt."

Nowhere has the impact of the crackdown been felt more acutely than in
Eugene, a maverick college town that has become the epicenter of a
modern-day renaissance in the art of shaping molten glass. Jason
Harris and Saeed Mohtadi were the local Medicis. Both thirty-two, they
helped found the Eugene Glass School, a nonprofit center devoted to
preserving the 2,000-year-old craft, as well as Universal Glass Inc.,
a wholesaler of raw material that supplied a community of an estimated
700 to 1,200 artisans. Harris was the creative spirit; his own
multicolored vases and plates could be seen in display cases at the
Eugene Airport. Mohtadi, the treasurer, was the entrepreneurial wizard.

Yet Harris and Mohtadi were pragmatic enough to know that art, no
matter how beautifully rendered, went only so far toward paying the
bills. The demand for hand-blown pipes and bongs, by contrast, was
almost insatiable, so four years ago they launched Jerome Baker
Designs, a paraphernalia manufacturer described by one connoisseur as
"the Gibson or Fender of glass." Some custom pieces, like the one the
company made for Snoop Dogg, are so adorned with swirls and curls and
wraparound figurines that they begin to resemble Faberge eggs. "With
one of these masterpieces, you will begin to understand the essence of
smoking," trumpeted the company's now-defunct Web site, which offered
such products as the Mothership, a twenty-inch-tall bong that sold for
$483. Operation Pipe Dreams took it all. At least fifty were left
without jobs. Harris and Mohtadi pleaded guilty in May 2003 in
Pittsburgh and will be sentenced later this summer.

OPERATION HEADHUNTER WAS launched out of Iowa, which has been at the
front lines of the paraphernalia wars since the early 1990s, when
federal agents in Des Moines raided a head shop called World Wide
Imports. The owner, Lana Christine Acty, was charged under a U.S. law
that defines drug paraphernalia as any item "primarily intended" for
the consumption of illegal substances. Given that just about anything
can be used to smoke dope -- a soda can, a tampon tube, an apple --
Acty challenged the code, arguing that it was subjective and vague,
but in May 1994 the U.S. Supreme Court shot her down, ruling that
"primarily intended" was, in fact, an objective standard -- a judgment
on a product's likely use, not the defendant's intention.

Pennsylvania got in on the act in 1997, taking down a pair of
Pittsburgh head shops known as Hari's Karishma and Novelties
International. The owners, Akhil Kumar Mishra and his wife,
Rajeshwari, both went to prison, but not before their case had piqued
the government's interest in similar vendors, including
Heads-N-Threads. DEA agents first raided the North Huntingdon store in
early 2001, seizing computers and financial records. That led them to
a national distribution network, much of which revolved around Barmes
Wholesale, a massive paraphernalia way station in Vincennes, Indiana,
a town that has been referred to as the "head shop capital of the
world." Authorities sealed off Main Street, home to six of Marvin
Barmes' warehouses, then stormed his seventeen-acre spread, even
sending in a team of divers to search a pond. As a caravan of
tractor-trailers hauled off inventory, the DEA followed the money
trail to several manufacturing hubs, including Chong Glass in Gardena,
California.

Chong, now gray and sixty-four, has lent his name to, and according to
prosecutors, invested $290,000 in, a pipe and bong business. His
likeness is emblazoned on many Chong Glass models, and Chong regularly
made time for photo appearances and autograph sessions at
paraphernalia stores around the country. Last December, he signed one
of his Chong Glass bongs for a couple of undercover agents who had
trailed him to a Texas head shop. Chong was the first of the Operation
Pipe Dreams defendants to plead guilty. He is set to be sentenced in
September; federal guidelines call for a six-to-twelve-month term.

Although it is still possible to buy a bong in America and will likely
remain so, the raids have sent a chill through the paraphernalia
industry. Head shops have toned down their displays, put merchandise
into storage, and scaled back their Internet transactions. "As long as
the wolf is at the door, there will be concern," says Robert Vaughn, a
Nashville attorney who is among the nation's leading defenders of
paraphernalia vendors. "Six to nine months from now, people will
slowly start putting things back out on the shelves." A more profound
wave of anxiety has gripped the glass world. With so many big-name
manufacturers now shuttered, hundreds of artisans have had tro
scramble for work. More than a few have applied their talents,
somewhat reluctantly, to the next best market: sex toys.

"Glass dildos," says Misha Gieseler, who, along with her husband,
co-owns Eugene Rain, an Oregon studio that had specialized in pipes.
"I even have a Web site now: glasslust.com. It's so embarrassing. I
never wanted to go that route, but I've got to make a living."

Sidebar:

Ashcroft's Raiders

Why authorities in the Midwest can nail head shops in
California

photo caption: A new front in the Drug War: U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan
with Attorney General John Ashcroft.

To a large degree, the defendants in these cases simply had the bad
luck of having done business in the back yards of two vigilant United
States attorneys -- Mary Beth Buchanan, in western Pennsylvania, and
Steven Colloton in southern Iowa -- who transformed Operation Pipe
Dreams and Operation Headhunter from local investigations into
nationwide roundups.

"I don't know why this kind of investigation hadn't been undertaken
before," says Buchanan, who was appointed by President Bush in 2001.
The short answer: Before John Ashcroft came along, cracking down on
bong makers was not a priority of the federal government. Buchanan and
Colloton realized they could apply the federal ban on paraphernalia
sales to almost any out-of-state distributor, as long as shipments
were received within their jurisdictions.

Not only do these U.S. attorneys' offices get a chance to curry favor
with the Bush administration, they also enjoy a financial windfall.
Federal law mandates that eighty percent of what is seized be
distributed to police agencies within their regions. So look for more
of these kinds of busts. "If anybody's involved in drug-related crimes
in this country," says DEA spokesman Will Glaspy, "they should be
concerned that the DEA could knock on their door any day."


Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jul 2003
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2003 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Contact: letters@rollingstone.com
Website: http://www.rollingstone.com/