GAINESVILLE, FL – On July 1, a new law went into effect that seeks to ban selling drug paraphernalia, like bongs, rolling papers and other implements used to smoke marijuana and ingest other controlled substances. The law passed over the last legislative session, and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June.
The original legislation would have been much harsher, but those selling anything that might be construed as paraphernalia should still be cautious, as the resulting charges could still result in severe penalties, said Gainesville marijuana lawyer Dean Galigani.
“Some of the discussion around this bill seems to indicate that the bill is toothless, and it’s true that it could have been worse,” Galigani said. “But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t severe punishments that those charged with retail sale of paraphernalia might face.”
House Bill 49, which is now part of Florida Statutes section 893.147, amended the statute to outlaw retailers from selling or offering to sell several items listed in Florida’s paraphernalia law (Florida Statutes section 893.145), including any of many kinds of pipe other than those made of briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob “knowingly and willfully.”
The original bill, filed by devoted drug prohibition supporter Rep. Darryl Rouson, of St. Petersburg, would have banned the sale of such devices outright, without the “knowingly and willfully” provision. Smoke shop owners across the state banded together to lobby for the inclusion of the language and succeeded, reducing the effectiveness of the bill.
The inclusion of the “knowingly and willfully” language is crucial to preventing the law from becoming truly heinous and represented a big victory for the shop owners, Galigani said. For someone to knowingly and willfully sell drug paraphernalia, he or she must know that the purchaser intends to use the object to ingest or inhale a controlled substance, he continued.
However, most shops that sell such products strictly enforce a policy that if the buyer states or even implies he or she will use the pipe, bong or device for marijuana or anything other narcotic, they will refuse service and usually require that person to immediately leave the premises, says Attorney Galigani.
“By virtue of that policy, which already existed for most retailers, few are likely to get in trouble for the new law,” Galigani said. “If they refuse sale to anyone who makes mention or suggests they will use the object for an illegal drug, it will be very difficult for prosecutors to build a case beyond reasonable doubt that the seller knew the product would be used as paraphernalia.”
However, the new law does give store owners a strong incentive to be very careful about their business, and strictly enforce policies that refuse sale to anyone who gives any indication they might use the product for cannabis or other controlled substances, Galigani said.
While the penalty for a first offense is the same as for possession of paraphernalia — a first degree misdemeanor — any subsequent offense is a third degree felony, resulting in a prison term of up to five years and a fine up to $5,000. A person convicted could also lose their driver’s license, their job, their business and their right to vote.
“Selling pipes and bongs is still a business that could get you in a lot of trouble,” Galigani said. “Shop owners need to be very careful about what they do, because they never know if the customer is an undercover officer.”
Florida ‘Bong Bill’ May Have Lost Its Bite, But Could Still Lead to Serious Charges was written by Dean Galigani and appears in full on The Daily Chronic.
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