The smoke has cleared in an argument over whether to crack down on smoke shops in Davis that sell what some say is drug paraphernalia.
The Davis City Council decided earlier this month that the city should not pursue a possible ordinance restricting tobacco-related businesses. It was a 3-2 vote, with councilmembers Stephen Souza, Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek opposed to moving forward.
The discussion was apparently prompted by the opening of Illusions, a downtown gift shop that sells tobacco paraphernalia. Illusions is the new incarnation of D-Zone Novelties, which just ended a run of over four years at 140 B Street, and is operated by the same owners.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor said he was concerned with businesses selling “tobacco paraphernalia” obviously meant for drug use.
“When you describe this as tobacco paraphernalia, it’s hard to get real excited about it,” Saylor said. “But when you look at the things that have actually been sold at the store on Second and G, some of the items match pretty carefully, pretty clearly with the items that are listed in this description of drug paraphernalia.“
Saylor pointed out containers that were designed as storage for controlled substances, glass-blown carburetor pipes and a World War II-era gas mask with a pipe protruding from the end as examples of items being sold at Illusions that were probably illegal.
“There are some pipes that defy the imagination as being intended for use with tobacco, very clearly,” he said.
Davis Police Chief Landy Black said enforcing drug paraphernalia laws is very difficult.
“An item by its appearance does not make it illegal. It’s its usage that makes it illegal,” Black said. “Without expending a great deal of time and resources to investigate the usage of that piece of paraphernalia, we don’t have a successful prosecution. Currently, with our staffing as it is in Davis, that would fall at a very low priority investigation for us, without additional resources.“
Black said if someone made a complaint about a particular item, police would investigate, especially if it was something like a syringe, which has a singular use. Something like a hookah pipe, however, has both legal and illegal potential uses. In order for police to enforce drug paraphernalia laws with an item like that, they would have to know what the intended use is, he said.
“It would require an undercover operation, for all intents and purposes, for us to get the seller of the product to tell us what its intended use is,” he said. “If its intended use is to smoke some kind of narcotic, then the sale of that item would be illegal.“
Mayor Ruth Asmundson said she was concerned with the impact tobacco paraphernalia stores have on community values.
“My issue is Davis is supposed to be a ‘no-smoking community‘ in a way, and to have the sale of tobacco and cigarettes in the downtown is sort of contradicting the values of what we’re trying to promote in this community,” Asmundson said.
Councilmember Stephen Souza said he was not interested in wasting the council’s time on the issue.
“I do not want to interject my morals into the individual legal rights of others when their purchasing behavior is not affecting my health or the health of others in our community,” Souza said.
Souza said some in Davis are legally allowed to use marijuana for medicinal purposes and said they have a legitimate need for paraphernalia that doesn’t harm their lungs in the same way a marijuana cigarette would.
“Frankly, I think the harm comes to individuals in the downtown far more from drinking alcohol, which is a legal substance,” he said. “If we want to attack something that is affecting the health of our community, let us attack the consumption of alcohol that’s taxing our police department on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.“
In meetings with Souza and Greenwald, the Downtown Davis Business Association said it was opposed to any new ordinances that could hinder the success of businesses already struggling in a difficult recession.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.