Officials Seize Thousands Of Pipes In Vista, San Marcos, Escondido
As part of a crackdown on so-called "head shops" and smoke shops, law enforcement officials this week served search warrants at 11 businesses in Vista, San Macros and Escondido.
They seized thousands of pipes and other smoking materials that authorities said are blatant drug paraphernalia.
Shopkeepers and owners at some of the shops were cited for misdemeanor drug charges, mostly for selling paraphernalia, but more charges could be filed as the investigation continues, said Damon Mosler, a deputy district attorney who heads the office's narcotics unit.
The operation was in response to numerous complaints from the public countywide about the shops, which have proliferated over the last few years, Mosler said.
The District Attorney's office spearheaded the crackdown, which was carried out by Escondido police and San Marcos and Vista sheriff's deputies.
"Head shops" are characterized by overt references to drug culture ---- for example, they stock magazines about drug use, psychedelic artwork and T-shirts emblazoned with marijuana leaves ---- all legal merchandise, Mosler said. But the shops also sell various smoking pipes, from pocket-sized to 6-feet-tall.
Mosler said the pipes are offered under the pretense they are used for tobacco. In many of the shops, customers know they must ask to see a "water pipe" instead of a "bong," a drug term.
"I believe a jury will tell me that's not for tobacco," Mosler said. "It's common sense that it's for marijuana, and not tobacco."
Because the enforcement push is new, it is not clear how successful prosecutions will be. The District Attorney's office has filed charges against individuals from two Imperial Beach shops that sheriff's deputies raided in late October, Mosler said, but those cases have not been tried yet.
The new enforcement began in North County about a month ago, when the District Attorney's office sent letters to 20 head shops and tobacco stores in Escondido, Vista and San Marcos warning them they might be in violation of laws against the sale of drug paraphernalia.
Undercover detectives then entered the shops to see whether they had complied with the letter, Mosler said. They found that nine shops, mostly mom-and-pop tobacco shops that had stocked a few incidental marijuana pipes, had complied.
But detectives said seven shops in Escondido, two in Vista and two in San Marcos are accused of continuing to sell drug paraphernalia, or selling tobacco products to minors. Mosler would not detail each store's exact offense, or how detectives concluded the items were for drug use.
The shops that authorities said were violating the law were raided Wednesday and Thursday. A complete list of the shops was not available Friday.
Manager Chris Pancer seemed miffed when about 10 Escondido police officers descended on Smokin' Glass, a strip mall store on Felicita Avenue, on Thursday afternoon.
"We have nothing to hide. Everything in here is for legal tobacco use; they're probably looking for stuff for illegal drug use," Pancer said.
The pristine store had hundreds of what Pancer called "art pieces for tobacco use" arranged neatly on shelves on each side of the store, art glass figurines and small colorful pipes in cases. There were no references to drugs in the store; a bold sign in the window asserts, "All items sold at this store are for use with tobacco and legal herbs only."
Pancer asked the police to be careful with the merchandise as they wrapped and boxed it. He said some of the shop's items sold for more than $1,000.
Escondido police Lt. Craig Carter said undercover detectives had cited Pancer selling a pipe to someone under 18, a misdemeanor. Pancer said he always carded customers.
A woman who identified herself as the shop's owner, but would give only her first name, showed up as police worked. She grew increasingly upset, and explained that she had opened the shop to serve people who want to enjoy smoking tobacco leaves in a beautiful piece of art glass ---- a legal venture.
Mosler said that 17,300 items were seized from the shops in three cities this week. If individuals from the shops are convicted of selling drug paraphernalia, the stock, which was seized as evidence, will not be returned.
The misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of fines and up to six months in jail, Mosler said. But he said he wasn't interested in punishing the shops ---- only in getting them to stop selling the drug paraphernalia. -
Author: Sarah Gordon, Staff Writer
Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2008
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
SoCal authorities raid 'head shops,' seize items
Thousands of water pipes and other smoking materials have been seized in San Diego County because authorities claim they are drug paraphernalia.
Law enforcement agencies on Wednesday and Thursday raided 11 so-called "head shops" and smoking shops in Vista, San Marcos and Escondido.
About 17,300 items were seized, according to Damon Mosler, who heads the narcotics unit of the county district attorney's office.
Some shopkeepers and owners were cited for misdemeanor drug charges — although one store manager said all the items were for legal tobacco use.
Mosler says the raids were prompted by public complaints about the proliferating shops.
San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, December 20, 2008