DEA sweep rocks the US

To turn a phrase once used by President Franklin D Roosevelt to describe the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the date February 24, 2003, “will live in infamy.”
It is the date that US drug warriors cowardly and without warning attacked 55 bong, pipe, chillum and hookah distributors across America, terrorizing the cannabis culture and wiping out a burgeoning industry that provided jobs coast to coast.

Commentators believe that the raids especially targeted online paraphernalia shops, but as of this writing only scant information is available about the identity of those arrested. An Associated Press article (see 55 Charged in Drug Paraphernalia Sales) named the online businesses Smokelab, Headcase, Puffpipes and Chong Glass. Chong Glass is owned by Tommy Chong – famous for his role in the classic Cheech and Chong comedies – giving the sweep an even more stinging flavor of cultural warfare.

Drug warriors are unapologetic, and responded to press inquiries with tiresome rantings about the dangers of smoking accessories, ignoring the common wisdom that such devices’ most common effect is to make smoke safer by cooling, filtering or vaporizing it.

“Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge,” said US Attorney General John Ashcroft, referring to internet paraphernalia sales. “This illegal, billion-dollar industry will no longer be ignored by law enforcement.”

Indeed, many of the websites for these and other bong and pipe sellers were unavailable when this author tried to access them the day after the raids. Messages announced that many of the websites either no longer existed or where “closed”.

In the US, it is illegal not only to sell bongs and pipes, but to manufacture them as well, so the next wave of arrests may target glassblowers and other smoking accessory manufacturers. So far, there seems to be no protection for smoking accessory dealers who claim to be selling pipes, hookahs and bongs for non-cannabis use, either. Chong Glass, like many others, sold bongs “for legal blend and tobacco use only.”

One “legal use only” smoking accessory dealer – who still hasn’t been busted and preferred to remain anonymous – was concerned when we told him that the busts may have included head shops. Canadian pot-seed merchant and CC publisher Marc Emery answered the concerns of our anonymous contact.

“What will happen is that all the shipping lists will be seized and that will jeopardize a lot of people,” said Emery. “US Paraphernalia sales will disappear in four to six months, and you won’t be able to get it anywhere for a reasonable price except from Canada. It will improve business north of the border, but the cost of that improvement is unacceptable, immoral and corrupt.”

The DEA sweep includes at least two coordinated fronts: Operation Pipe Dreams reaching into Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Southern California and Operation Headhunter reaching into Iowa, Michigan, California and Texas.

Previous busts were clues that the DEA saw smoking accessories dealers as drug-war targets. In August, 2001, Chris Hill of Chills was arrested for selling bongs (see CC #41, Bong makers busted), and in April, 2002, Pennsylvania residents Jason Greenwald and Lynn Salsbury were arrested for selling, among other products, Chong Glass from their internet accessory shop, Half Baked Ideas.