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San Antonio Police Looking To Crack Down On Drug Paraphernalia

David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio

San Antonio could become the first city in Texas to adopt an ordinance that would crack down on crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia. 

The goal is to remove the convenience of bongs from convenience stores.

I’m in a corner store on Fredericksburg Road – just a couple of blocks from my house. I’ve been in here dozens of times over the years.

But for the first time, I pause to take a good look at a display of glass pipes next to the cash register.

There’s a handwritten sign that reads: “For Tobacco Use.”

But maybe not, because one of the glass pipes has the decal of a marijuana leaf and the number 420 – which is code for smoking pot. The clerk says it sells for $16.99.

In line in front of me, a guy is asking the clerk for a thin glass pipe, a Chore Boy copper Brillo pad and two lighters.

This is what San Antonio Police Lieutenant Jimmy Sides says is a ready bag for smoking crack or meth.

“Some call it a 'happy meal.' It has the Brillo and the little pipe,” says Lt. Sides.

Sides says many convenience stores in San Antonio are now basically “head shops” – a slang term for a retail outlet specializing in paraphernalia used for consumption of marijuana and harder drugs like crack and meth.

“When I went on my first inspection, I saw all this paraphernalia and I went 'why? Why? Why can they sell it?' So when I poked around and asked the question I was told case law," Sides says. "How the law is interpreted is that it’s not against the law to have this glass tobacco water pipe, but if I had it with marijuana then it becomes drug paraphernalia."

And that’s when a glass pipe becomes illegal.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine up to $500. A conviction or guilty plea for drug paraphernalia can result in a criminal record.

Nevertheless, drug paraphernalia is easy to find and easy to buy.

“You’ve seen them blossoming in the local market and a lot of these convenience stores selling glass pipes, grinders and even water pipes what might be called colloquially a bong," says San Marcos-based lawyer Daniel Mehler.

Mehler calls himself "the dopest lawyer in town" because his specialty is defending those arrested for marijuana crimes. He says having bongs and pipes sold on street corner shops is just the way things are nowadays.

“It is normal. It is accepted in society," Mehler says. “Some of the most popular TV shows in America right now [involve] marijuana."

For example, a new Netflix sitcom called "Disjointed" starring Katy Bates is about a family selling pot.

Lieutenant Sides says despite what’s happening in mass media and what’s legal in other states, pot is still illegal in Texas. He says corner stores selling pipes and other paraphernalia gives the impression that this is accepted by the community. 

“You’re normalizing it and making the kids think it’s perfectly okay,” Sides says.

An ordinance currently being drafted by the San Antonio Police Department would take drug paraphernalia out of the corner stores.

“If you are going to have these tobacco paraphernalia – which is what they call it – in your store, then you can allow no one under the age of 18 to be in your store,” Sides says.

The draft ordinance has yet to be presented to city council’s public safety committee. If the proposal finds support there, then it goes before the full council for a vote.

Sides thinks it will have widespread public support. But the dopest lawyer, Mehler, says this ordinance won’t work.

“There’s nothing to distinguish them from tobacco pipes from drug paraphernalia," he says. "It’s way over broad [and] might be unconstitutional.”

Which means the anti-bong ordinance could face a court challenge that would be costly to defend. If it does pass the judicial test, similar ordinances could be adopted by other cities in Texas.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi