Nationwide drive against 'head shops' runs into a federal court snag
Atlanta — A nationwide movement to crack down on the drug paraphanelia stores widely known as "head shops" has run into a federal court snag. The shops, which can be found in most cities -- often near supermarkets or schools, sometimes as part of record stores -- sell items used with marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs. Catering to both minors and adults, they usually purvey marijuana-inhaling devices in the form of toys, or even pencils.
Head shops have increasingly come under legal challenges spurred by concerned parents across the United States.
A new California law prohibiting the shops from selling drug paraphernalia to minors goes into effect Jan. 1. It is said to be backed by at least part of the industry that produces and distributes this material.
But in Ohio, a federal appeals court has ruled that an anti-head shop ordinance in the Cleveland suburb of Parma is unconstitutionally vague.
The Parma ordinance is based on model legislation drawn up by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). At least a dozen states and many local governments have adopted such legislation.
But because many of the head shop items have "innocent" uses -- such as for decoration -- banning their sale is subject to constitutional challenge, Deputy Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan cautioned a congressional panel last year.
The DEA model legislation tries to avoid this pitfall by requiring proof of intent to use the item with illegal drugs.
DEA attorney Harry Myers, who drafted the model legislation, calls the appeals court ruling in Ohio a "mistake." He is confident several pending ruling by other US appeals courts will uphold the legislation as adopted elsewhere.
Justice Department and DEA officials say they do not know what effect closing head shops would have on illegal drug use. But head shops have a clear impact as a "meeting place for drug users," says Mr. Nathan.
The proportion of 12- to 17-year-olds in the US using marijuana at least once a month has remained at 17 percent since 1977, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Daily use among high-school seniors decreased slightly from 10.7 percent in 1978 to 10.3 percent in 1979.
Some head shop critics think their efforts to inform teen-agers of the dangers of marijuana are having an effect. One points out that inhaling devices sold in head shops result in marijuana smoke being inhaled deeper into the lungs and at greater pressure than when smoked without the devices.
Parents are concerned about the "message" they say head shops send to children -- a message that society approves the use of illegal drugs.
Some 600 parental groups in 50 states have banded together as the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth, says Sue Rusche, a leader in the fight in Georgia against head shops.
The sponsor of California's new head shop law, state Assemblyman Mel Levine (D) of Los Angeles, says he was looking for a bill that would be "simple, enforceable, and constitutional."
He boasts of the paraphernalia industry's support of his bill, but Mrs. Rusche says such support is "a thinly veiled attempt by the industry to stay in business."
She says she wants to see head shops closed because they serve, in effect, as "an advertising arm" of the illegal drug industry.
Georgia's head shop ban, not based on the DEA model, was thrown out by a federal district court here Dec. 1. But the judge indicated he considers the DEA model constitutional, and some Georgia legislators plan to introduce it in January.
The failure of many head shop bans passed by state and local governments led the DEA to draft its model law. Essentially, it bans the manufacture, use, sale , and possession of paraphernalia used in connection with illegal drugs. The ban applies to items used, intended for use, or designed for use with the drugs.