Efforts to legalize medical marijuana have gotten a lot of attention in Tallahassee this year. But that hasn’t slowed down a bill to ban bongs and other devices used to consume pot and other mind-bending substances. That bill is garnering overwhelming approval in the Florida Senate.
Democratic Representative Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg is the sponsor of the bill to outlaw the sale of certain smoking pipes and devices across Florida.
“It started in 2003, when I was arrested as President of the NAACP and prosecuted by my state attorney and convicted by my jury of trespassing in protest of these stores that cell crack pipes, marijuana pipes, and bongs in the urban core of St. Petersburg—and, literally, 100 yards across the street from a high school where we tell kids ‘don’t smoke dope, don’t smoke marijuana,’ but they’re passing a neon sign every day advertising the sale of these devices,” said Rouson.
Today, it’s legal for certain retailers to sell smoking devices, like bongs or water pipes, as long as at least 75-percent of their sales come from tobacco products, like cigars and cigarettes.
But, Rouson’s bill gets rid of that exception and makes any sale of certain smoking devices a first degree misdemeanor. A person found violating it again would later face a third degree felony charge.
Rouson, a former drug user, says he’s hoping to take away the convenience of having addicts using these pipes for illicit drug use.
“These shops are commonly called ‘Head Shops,’ and not tobacco shops. These utensils are commonly used. And, the average teenager, police officer, judge, treatment professional, and family can tell you what’s actually being smoked in these pipes. The only people who don’t know are the retailers, the ones who are selling it. While they can be used for legal purposes, they’re commonly not,” Rouson added.
Rouson’s bill has the backing of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, and the Florida Smart Justice Alliance. It also has the support of University of Central Florida student Robert Kleiman, who works at an addictions receiving facility in Orange County.
“I think it’s about time the head shops get a wakeup call for this abuse that’s going on currently. These kids are clearly smoking, digesting, inhaling toxic illicit drugs, they’re not smoking tobacco,” said Kleiman.
Rouson’s measure also gets the nod from his fellow lawmakers, like Democratic Representative Dave Kerner of Lake Worth. Kerner says he was on the fence at first about the bill, but he’s now fully on board:
“Ranking member Rouson has done an excellent job in allaying my fears in being overbroad with this bill. And, we need to be proactive in this. What kind of message are we sending to our children where we have these shops with these pipes in there under the guise that they’re being used for tobacco. I think the general population knows that that’s not what they’re being used for, and it lessens the credibility of our system of law when we allow that to occur,” said Kerner.
And, Republican Representative Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach also praises the bill.
“And, I too want to echo that. We’re enabling the children and adults to do this, when we are providing them with the mechanism in order to do it with. So, I support this wholeheartedly, and I thank Representative Rouson for bringing this forward,” said Mayfield.
As in its previous committees, the bill passed unanimously in its third committee stop, the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday. It has one more stop to go before it heads to the House floor.
A similar measure in the Senate sponsored by Republican Senator Kelli Stargel also has one more stop to go before it heads for a Floor vote.
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