Bill outlawing marijuana pipes goes to Gov. Scott
TALLAHASSEE - A Florida lawmaker who once struggled with his own drug addiction is hoping to curtail the sale of marijuana pipes known as “bongs” through a bill that cleared the Legislature today. But Rep. Rep. Darryl Rouson acknowledges that changes made to his legislation raise questions about whether the bill, if it becomes law, would be effective in removing those pipes from store shelves in the Sunshine State. State legislators wrapped up work on the measure (HB 49) when the Senate passed it on a 31-2 vote today. The bill, which cleared the House earlier in the session, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.The measure would make it illegal for shops to “knowingly and willfully” sell the pipes for use to consume illegal drugs. One question, however, is whether the final language in the bill would allow the devices to still be sold if the expressed purpose was to smoke tobacco. “There's some that would argue that,” Rouson said in an interview today. Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the bill, with its threat of jail time for violations, would create a “chilling factor” among retailers that spurs them to remove the pipes — which he calls “utensils of death and destruction.” The pipes are sold at a few hundred stores across Florida and tend to cluster close to college campuses, he said. Even if the bill effectively removes the pipes from store shelves, it's only a small advance in the larger fight against illegal drug use, he said. “I'm not under any illusion that this eradicates drug abuse, but I certainly believe that it makes it less convenient to get tools of abuse as near as the street corner,” he said. First-time offenders would be guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor. Second and subsequent violations would jump to a third-degree felony. In some ways, Rouson's push is going against the tide nationally. While some states are passing laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana, others are seeking to roll back some of the harsh penalties of the 1990s war on drugs by diverting non-violent offenders into treatment instead of prisons. In promoting the bill, Rouson has talked openly about his former drug addiction. He has said the pipes he wants to remove from stores can be used to consume crack cocaine, meth and hash as well as marijuana. As the bill wound through the Legislature, Rouson offered assurances that it wasn't aimed at tobacco pipes. His common refrain was that the bill wouldn't outlaw “granddaddy's corn cob pipe.” The bill was amended to exempt “briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob” pipes. Its supporters also assured that hookahs would not be taken off store shelves. Sen. Kelli Stargel, who sponsored a companion Senate bill, said she was hopeful that retailers selling the pipes would take a hit from law enforcement. “If it is unlawful to do illegal drugs in our state, it should be unlawful to sell drug paraphernalia in our state,” the Lakeland Republican said. “Retailers who have knowledge and intent to sell these items should be shut down.” During the brief Senate debate on the bill today, one lawmaker turned the focus to whether marijuana should be legal. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the larger issue is whether marijuana is dangerous. “I happen to believe that it is not, and that it's a drug that should be regulated just like we regulate every other drug in the state of Florida,” he said.