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Smoking devices legal, until used for illegal purposes

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Glass and metal smoking pipes of various shapes, sizes and psychedelic styles layer display cases in a music store in east Columbus.

One glass pipe nearly touches the ceiling in the Karma music store. Below that, the images of Cheech and Chong and their smiling faces from 1970s and 1980s movies appear on rectangular boxes of glass cleaner.

Karma’s products are labeled “for tobacco use only,” and buyers must be 18 or older.

Selling unused pipes, such as the ones described above, is perfectly legal. They range from $5 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the size and quality.

Law at a glance

Indiana Code makes possession of paraphernalia illegal when a person who possesses a raw material, instrument, device or other object intends to use it for:

■ Introducing a controlled substance into the person’s body.

■ Testing the strength, effectiveness or purity of a controlled substance.

■ Enhancing the effect of a controlled substance.

An intentional violation of this law is considered a Class A misdemeanor, unless the individual has a prior, unrelated judgment regarding paraphernalia, when it becomes a Class D felony. Reckless possession of paraphernalia is considered a Class B misdemeanor and is advanced to a Class D felony with a prior conviction.

While selling such items is legal, what the buyer does with them may not be.

In Indiana, only when the devices are intended or used to ingest drugs do they become paraphernalia, and are thus illegal. Possession of paraphernalia is typically a Class A misdemeanor, although with a previous, unrelated conviction it can result in a Class D felony.

“Yes, it is concerning to law enforcement, but the law currently allows the items to be sold,” Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix said in an email. “Obviously, we know that a significant portion of the paraphernalia sold is later used to introduce a controlled substance into a person’s body.”

Local law enforcement officers are partially handcuffed by the law.

“Anything that can lead to a young person to make bad choices, I’d like to prevent that opportunity from ever occurring,” said state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who authored March legislation banning the sale of synthetic drugs such as spice and bath salts. “But ... a pipe, we don’t know what they’re going to be smoking in there.”

Smith compares the pipes to cars. They’re both legal to buy. How people use them determines whether they’re being operated within the confines of the law.

“I’m concerned about us restricting the sale of something that’s legal to be sold because of what (buyers) might do with it,” Smith said. “ Where will it end?”

Police said many everyday household items are used in conjunction with illegal drugs. Even something as common as a spoon could be used to make methamphetamine, local police say. Tweezers are used to smoke marijuana, and handheld scales are used in the packaging and distribution of marijuana.

However, the police department has a treasure chest full of confiscated paraphernalia similar to new merchandise sold at local retailers. Unloaded from boxes and bags recently were pipes made of glass, brass and wooden pipes, plus novelty pipes. One was in the shape of a small model car, resembling a purple, flowery Volkswagen Beetle. A metal pipe poked through the trunk and hood.

Another was a smoking device shaped like a glass joker with rubber hoses connected from all directions.

“I mean, is your grandpa going to smoke tobacco with a joker bong with hoses coming out of it? It’s almost like they’re rubbing it in your face,” said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for Columbus Police Department. “These are made to smoke illegal substances, and we all know it.”

A Karma manager declined to comment about the store’s smoking devices. A message left for the store owner was not returned.

Nirvana, a clothing store in the FairOaks Mall, sells small, skinny pipes with round heads, marketed as oil burners. Police say those types of pipes can also be used to smoke methamphetamine and crack cocaine.

Efforts to talk with a Nirvana manager also were unsuccessful. Messages left on the owner’s voice mail were not returned.

Smith said the state continues to discuss the sale of pipes and other devices commonly turned into paraphernalia. It is a concern, he said, but people choose what they do with what they’re purchasing.

“Can we legislate making the right choices?” he said.

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