October 8, 2003

Sales Still High For Ithaca Head Shops

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More than half a year after the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) launched initiatives against the sale of drug paraphernalia, Ithaca’s head shops are showing no sign of giving up their business. The operations, nicknamed Headhunter and Pipe Dreams, have already brought more than 55 indictments, including the much-publicised arrest of Tommy Chong, of Cheech and Chong fame, who received nine months of prison time and a large fine for peddling his wares.

Stores on the Ithaca Commons, however, aren’t letting the DEA strong-arm them. They claim that their pipes are only intended for tobacco and other legal substances. “We’re going to stay open until they close us down, because we’re not selling anything illegal,” an employee at one store said. A 3-D Light clerk expressed similar views. “You can’t tell me what that’s going to smoke,” he said, referring to a waterpipe on display.

The stores, however, seem to disagree on the effect that the DEA’s operations will have on their business. Immediately after the initiative began, rumors spread that stores in Ithaca would stop selling pipes and other paraphernalia, causing prices to fluctuate. Prices have since stabilized, but a Commons store employee said that customers are still confused. “Every single person [who comes in],” she said, “90 percent will be like, ‘what’s happening?'” She says that concern about the store’s future has bumped up business as customers hurry to purchase products before the government threatens to close down the stores. The clerk at 3-D Light, however, disagreed, stating that customers are not worried or do not know about the possible threat.

Other stores contacted in the Ithaca area refused to comment to The Sun, citing a need to remain cautious in light of the crackdown.

The DEA’s operations have been a matter of controversy from the start. Officials in the Department of Justice insist that water pipes and bongs are clearly intended primarily for the consumption of illegal drugs, but pipe sellers disagree. A store employee questioned how the government can claim that such products are intended for marijuana when plenty of legal substances, such as salvia and sage, are primarily smoked out of such products. Further, every time she sells a waterpipe or other smoking device, she offers the customer a legal substance. Approximately half of her customers take her up on her offer.

The DEA’s operations have brought indictments across the nation, from Pennsylvania to Oregon. They have also focused heavily on online stores. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a press release issued Feb. 24, 2003, said that “with the advent of the Internet, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has exploded,” adding that the industry has “invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge.” According to Operation Pipe Dream’s website, drug paraphernalia is defined under federal law as “those products that are primarily intended or designed to be used in ingesting, inhaling or otherwise using controlled substances.”

Asked about the war on drugs in general, the clerk at 3-D Light noted that certain drugs, such as pharmaceuticals, are very harmful, and suggested that the government is not doing enough to curb abuse of these substances. He added that certain states, such as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, are stricter than others. The Commons employee was more vocal: “John Ashcroft should have a water pipe strapped to him and he should be force-fed marijuana, see if it’s so bad. And he should have to smoke until he’s high.”

This source added that marijuana has many beneficial effects. Hemp, she said, could save our environment since one tree can be replaced by four hemp plants, and its oil could save us from our natural resource deficiencies. She also noted that marijuana helps get rid of stress, which she said is the cause of 70 percent of illnesses. Both she and the clerk at 3-D Light are in favor of the legalization of marijuana. “I definitely wish there was a way to end the drug war,” she said, adding that her already precarious position as an employee in a store that sells waterpipes prevents her from taking a more vocal role.

For now, however, the stores do not have any plans to halt sales or take any other steps. For 3-D Light at least, it’s just “business as usual.”

Archived article by Yuval Shavit