Kentuky Company Says D.C. Law on Cigar Wrappers Illegal

A District of Columbia law aimed at making it tougher for kids to get materials that can be used to smoke marijuana is under fire from a tobacco company.

The Kentucky-based National Tobacco Company argued in court Friday that a 2010 law banning the sale of wrapping papers used to roll cigars was vague and unconstitutional and should not stand. The company, the fourth largest manufacturer of roll-your-own tobacco products in the nation, asked a federal judge to bar the city from enforcing its ban.

When city lawmakers passed the ban, which apparently has never been enforced, they said the only purpose of cigar paper is for illegal drug use. Lawmakers said they were concerned teens were using the cigar wrappers, which are made of tobacco, as a way to smoke large marijuana cigarettes, called blunts.

But National Tobacco’s lawyer, Raymond Castello, said that while the city is allowed to regulate the sale of tobacco products, the city cannot ban the company’s product outright. He said the company had lost business from 26 places in the city that once carried their Zig-Zag brand of tobacco and wrapping papers but dropped the products after the ban was approved.

“We’ve had a direct injury,” Castello said.

But a lawyer for the city, Chad Copeland, told the judge that officials have never actually enforced the ban on the sale of cigar rolling papers. Sellers know that, he said. Lawyers for the city had previously told the mayor that there were problems with enforcing some provisions of the law.

Even if the city did enforce the ban, Copeland said, National Tobacco would not have a right to sue because it is a supplier, not an actual seller in the city affected by the ban and potentially subject to punishment for illegal sales.

Copeland told the judge that the city wasn’t alone in banning the cigar wrapping papers. A total of 13 jurisdictions around the country have banned or are considering banning the wrappers, he said, including Boston, which is also involved in a lawsuit over its own ban.

U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins did not immediately say whether he would prohibit the city from enforcing the ban or dismiss the lawsuit, and ordered both sides to bring him additional information. But Wilkins seemed skeptical that National Tobacco had a right to sue. He also expressed frustration with what he said was a sloppy and confusingly written law.

– Article originally from The Herald Dispatch.