The so-called “bong bill” that goes into effect Monday isn’t going to shut down your local head shop.
That was the intent of recovered crack cocaine addict State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who wrote a bill that would have banned the sale of most pipes in Florida by declaring them drug paraphernalia.
Only pipes made of “briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob” would be legal to sell, under Rouson’s bill.
“It would have shut down about 300 stores,” said Jay Work, who formed the Florida Smoke Shop Association, a lobbying group that successfully derailed Rouson’s effort.
Work owns Grateful J’s Dead Head Shop, a chain of four smoke shops in Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Margate and Pompano Beach. Most of his business is the sale of glass pipes, everything from 3-foot-tall water pipes to small decorative ones.
“The pipes I sell are for anything that people want to smoke legally,” Work said.
Laws have traditionally allowed head shops to avoid being prosecuted for selling drug paraphernalia by claiming that the pipes they sell are only for tobacco or other legal products. Or that they are selling tchotchkes for collectors.
“If a customer comes in and makes you think they are going to use it illegally, we have to refuse to sell it,” Work said. “We don’t sell paraphernalia.”
But Rouson considers that just a disingenuous game being played. And his bill spelled out all the kinds of smoking accessories that would become banned as drug paraphernalia:
“Metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic smoking pipes, with or without screens, permanent screens hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls; water pipes; carburetion tubes and devices; chamber pipes; carburetor pipes; electric pipes; air-driven pipes, chillums; bongs; ice pipes or chillers.”
Any retailer selling one of these kinds of pipes would be subject to a misdemeanor charge on the first offense, and a third-degree felony on subsequent occurrences.
With the bill making headway in the state legislature, Work organized about 75 shop owners into The Florida Smoke Shop Association.
“It cost us a lot of money, and we hired a lobbying firm to represent us,” Work said.
It paid off with some subtle word changes being inserted into the final version of the bill, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott this month.
The language was altered by adding the words “knowingly and willingly” into the text, saying that it was illegal to “knowingly and willingly” sell these pipes as drug paraphernalia.
“Basically, that takes the law back to where it was before they started doing all of this,” Work said. “Nothing changes.”
Rouson ended up sponsoring a law that failed to achieve its intent.
“I’m disappointed in the ultimate outcome that passed out of the legislature and went to the governor,” Rouson told ABC News. “The original bill would have banned and prohibited the retail sale of pipes.”
Work said the exercise has given him a new perspective on the lawmaking process in Florida.
“They spin a lot of wheels,” he said.