February 11, 2007

Philly Rolls Up the Blunt

By: AFF Editors

Philadelphia, namesake for the famous Phillies Blunt, has banned the Philly blunt. Bill No. 060345, commonly known as the “Blunt Ban,” orders Philadelphia retail stores to remove all “blunts” and other “drug paraphernalia” from their shelves.

“It’s not just a blunt bill,” cautions Philadelphia Police detective Jerry Rocks, who worked for 14 months to get the bill enacted. “People try to weaken it by saying it just bans flavored cigars, but it’s more than that — it’s an anti-drug bill.”

The legislation prohibits selling any item “where the seller knows, or under the circumstances reasonably should know” that it would be used to “convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance in violation of [the Pennsylvania Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act].”

The penalty for breaking the new law, which promptly went into effect after Mayor John Street signed it in January, is a fine between $300 and $1,500 for each violation. The maximum fine will rise to $1,900 in 2008 and to $2,000 in 2009.

“What we’re trying to do is let people know that it is illegal,” says Rocks. “We want store owners to know to get [paraphernalia] out of stores and off the shelves. If not, they’re going to get $1500 fines and may loose their business license.”

According to 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris, franchise employees are already trained to detect suspicious behavior. Their program, “Come of Age,” teaches store personnel when and how to refuse sales.

“We train them in what to look for,” said Chabris. “If they have a strong suspicion that something is being used for illegal purchases, we tell them the steps to remove the product.”

Although the Delaware County-based convenience store chain Wawa already had a self-imposed ban on rolling papers, the company voluntarily ordered its managers to pull cigars from their shelves after members of the City Council voted 17-0 in favor of the bill back in December.

“We did not ever sell many of the items covered in the bill, such as rolling papers or ‘wraps’ or other items,” said Lori Bruce, Public Relations Manager for Wawa. “We removed the products that we carried which included all single and flavored cigars and all Blunt cigars.”

Have they really?

According to the text of the bill (“… pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale…”) almost anything could be reasonably used as drug paraphernalia. The sale of sandwich bags, soda cans, apples and aluminum foil — along with litany of other household items — is potentially prohibited under the new law.

“Clearly this definition can be used to apply to almost literally anything,” notes Derek Rosenzweig, co-chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “This misguided bill just continues a failed policy.”

The key, according to Jerry Rocks, is finding the “reasonable” difference between Red Delicious and something suspicious. “The average person knows what they’re selling and what it’s used for,” said Rocks. “If the $1500 fines start coming out and people start losing their business licenses, they’re going to get the paraphernalia out of their store.”

The setting for the next chapter in this story will move from City Hall to the Court House, where the legislation will almost certainly be contested. Meanwhile, as the fire burns out on city cigar sales, Altadis, U.S.A. Inc. — manufacturer of Phillies Blunts — refuses to comment.

Taylor W. Buley is author of “The Fresh Politics Reader” and is the founding editor-in-chief of the Pennsylvania Independent, a student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania.