Florida's war on bongs gets national attention -- and criticism

When Rick Scott signed CS/CS/HB 49 -- Florida's new statute criminalizing the sale of bongs, even if not used for drug use -- into law, it hardly made local news here. Two weeks later, however, the national news media appears to have noticed our new felony drug charge for those caught selling drug paraphernalia a second time -- and it's the subject of some serious criticism.

For one thing, the final analysis of the bill by our own House of Representatives predicts the law will increase local jail and prison populations -- something we can hardly afford, considering that the Escambia County Jail is currently being sued by the Department of Justice for unconstitutional prison conditions apparently caused by chronic underfunding.

The bong ban, or revised section 893.147 of the Florida Statutes, goes into effect on July 1. Advertised as a way to make it less convenient to smoke marijuana or hashish, the new law makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for a retailer to "knowingly and willfully" offer for sale any drug paraphernalia considered by the State of Florida to be intended for drug use. That includes bongs, water pipes, pipes, punctured metal bowls, carburetion tubes or pipes, chamber pipes, electric or air-driven pipes, ice pipes, chillers of chillums.

Once someone has been convicted of a misdemeanor sale of such equipment, a second sale is charged as a third-degree felony drug charge. As a reporter for the Huffington Post points out, any retailer convicted of that felony drug charge will lose the right to vote.

Retailers who make 75 percent or more of their income from tobacco sales will still be allowed to sell the paraphernalia. That is likely to be problematic for many tobacco shops, since many of them took up the sale of glass pipes unassociated with drugs in order to stabilize their incomes as smoking becomes more expensive and unpopular.

Interestingly, the bong bill passed into law despite a recent report in the Miami Herald that as many as 70 percent of Floridians support more progressive marijuana regulation -- and that a majority of Americans support the decriminalization of marijuana.

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