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Owners of four smoke shops in Gainesville — Mystic, Modern Age, High Tides and Gator City Tobacco and Gifts — have all refused to comment on the recent drug paraphernalia ban passed by the Florida Legislature.
House Bill 49, colloquially known as the “bong ban,” prohibits the “use or possession of drug paraphernalia, manufacture or delivery of drug paraphernalia, delivery of drug paraphernalia to a minor, transportation of drug paraphernalia and advertisement of drug paraphernalia.”
The bill passed in June with a Senate vote of 31-2 and House vote of 112-3. It was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on July 1.
Local smoke shops wouldn’t comment because “they probably feel like they are being persecuted,” said Gainesville lawyer Joshua Silverman.
“Discretion is a point of value in that profession,” he said.
A person knowingly and willfully selling or offering for sale any of the drug paraphernalia listed in the bill is charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation is a third-degree felony, according to myfloridahouse.gov.
A first-degree misdemeanor can result in up to a year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $100. Other charges that result in a first-degree misdemeanor are possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis and trespassing.
“The outcome depends a large part on the criminal history,” said Silverman.
A third-degree felony can result in up to five years in a state prison, and/or a fine of up to $5,000, he said. Depending on criminal history and severity of the crime, offenders could lose their right to vote.
Proposed by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, the bill has its roots in his anti-drug campaign fueled by overcoming his 19-year-long cocaine addiction that started while he was at UF Law, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
According to myfloridahouse.gov, “It is important to note the items included as drug paraphernalia … are not illegal to possess unless they are used, intended for use, or designed for use … for growing a controlled substance.” This allows smoke shops to remain in business.
According to Lt. Todd Kelly at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the bill has not seemed to affect illegal drug use.
“We have not seen any significant changes in the number of arrests for possession of paraphernalia,” he wrote in an email.
Paraphernalia charges are usually added to an already existing possession charge, Kelly said.
The ban hasn’t seemed to affect marijuana advocates either, according to Guy Andrews, vice president of NORML Gators, a marijuana advocacy group.
“Ultimately, it did nothing to the image of marijuana and was not effective in regulating smoking paraphernalia whatsoever,” he said. “I think the proposed bong ban was a misguided attempt to put a bad face on marijuana by making it more difficult to get smoking devices.”
With the increased support for legalization of marijuana in Florida from prominent lawyer John Morgan of Morgan and Morgan, and a new poll showing that seven out of 10 Florida voters support the legalization of marijuana, Andrews said he hasn’t seen any regression in support.
“We have the most powerful attorney in the state … publicly supporting medical marijuana now,” Andrews said. ”If we can’t trust a top…lawyer in this country, who can we trust?”