Pubdate: Fri, 28 Feb 2003
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2003 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Mike Seate, Tribune-Review
Note: Mike Seate is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Alert: #263 'Ding Dong, The Bongs Are 


"I believe in the near future, the government will use anti-drug
hysteria to set up a police state" -- author William S. Burroughs,

Shoppers on the city's trendy South Side can still, if they wish, drop
into a store and buy drug paraphernalia. Inventive stoners can head to
the produce aisle at the Wharton Square Giant Eagle supermarket and
buy an apple or a carrot, both of which can be hollowed out for pot
smoking. Or they could try the sundries aisle where there's all sorts
of emergency smoking supplies --- from empty toilet paper rolls to
aluminum foil.

Fine wooden and mock-ivory pipes for tobacco smokers are also
available at Bloom's Cigar Store over on 12th Street.

But consumers can't buy anything specifically designed for drug use.
Not after Monday's raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration,
that is. Federal agents swooped down on several western Pennsylvania
boutiques and so-called "head shops," arresting 55 people for selling
what local U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan described as items "no one
would possibly use for smoking tobacco."

For the crime of helping people smoke tobacco substitutes, the federal
government could fine the owners of these small businesses up to
$250,000 each and put them away in a federal penitentiary for three
years with rapists, murderers and people scary enough to creep out a
Bosnian war criminal.

If that sounds a bit harsh for selling wooden pipes, metal alligator
clips and plastic baggies -- items readily available in numerous
office-supply stores and "legitimate" smoke and cigar shops -- you
ain't just whistlin' "Working on the Chain Gang."

For a comparison of just how heavy-handed these sentencing guidelines
are, consider the following: any of the 55 defendants could end up
serving more time than those convicted of manslaughter, burglary, even

Criminals convicted of assault do an average of 30 months; rape, 36
months; murder, 40 months, according to 2001 figures from the U.S.
Sentencing Commission. Drug offenders serve an average of 48 months in

But time is not the only item Washington's goon squad is looking to
steal from these folks. They all risk the forfeiture of their cars,
homes and businesses under the current statutes, which, on the
surface, seem like something dreamed up by Joe Stalin during one of
his weekend getaways with Idi Amin.

Defendant Randy Prezkopf, owner of Slacker, an alternative lifestyles
boutique on the South Side's Carson Street, was among those rounded up
on Monday. He's been scrambling to find an attorney and making
potential plans for his incarceration. He's unsure just what items in
his funky, well-lit shop caused the feds to target Slacker, but one
item has come up missing.

"It was a book on how to grow marijuana. I thought books were
protected by the Constitution," he said.

There was a time when the rights of average citizens such as Prezkopf,
even ones who sold pot pipes and weird books, thought they, too, were
protected by the Constitution. Apparently, those days are gone. The
drug agencies will inevitably roll out the same old tired bromides
about locking people up to protect the children from the ravages of
drugs, without considering how many children will go parentless for a
few years.

And Prezkopf, along with 54 of his fellow Pennsylvanians, may find
himself protecting his back in a federal prison. That's the biggest
crime of all.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake