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‘Head shops’ the target of bill limiting the sale of pipes to tobacco shops

TALLAHASSEE — It would be more difficult to sell carburetor pipes, chillums and chillers in Florida under a bill approved today by a panel of state lawmakers.

Don’t know what those items are? Most members of the House Finance and Tax Council didn’t either. Not that that stopped them from approving the bill 16-0. “I have no idea what 80 percent of these things are,” said Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, before supporting the measure.

The bill (HB 187) is an attempt to shutter so-called “head shops,” boutiques that may say they are selling paraphernalia to smoke tobacco but that lawmakers say is really used to inhale marijuana and crack.

“There are many hypocrisies in our society. Most we won’t do anything about in our lifetime,” said Florida Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “But some we can chip away at incrementally.”

The bill, cosponsored by Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, would forbid Florida retailers from selling a list of pipes — including any made of metal, wood, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic or ceramic — unless 75 percent of their sales are tobacco.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, suggested a business could skirt the proposed law by marking up cigarettes to $30 per pack and offering a “free” bong with each sale. But Rouson said most head shops sell other items, such as clothing, and would have a difficult time reaching the 75 percent threshold.

Republican Rep. William Snyder, a former major in the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, said the bill could ensnare an unknowing owner of a local convenience store.

“As I look at this list, I don’t really understand what some of these are,” Snyder said. “I want to make sure I’m comfortable that we don’t slam the mom-and-pop grocery store that sells whatever an electric carburetor pipe is, or a chillum. I mean, I know what a bong is.”

Rouson, however, described the pipes as “destructive utensils” that “destroy communities.”

“I’d love to ban them,” he said. “At some point, it will be a seminal moment in the history of Florida.”

The bill has two more committee hearing before it can be debated on the House floor. The Senate version (SB 366) was approved in its first committee stop last week.

By Michael C. Bender

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