Florida’s “Bong Ban” May be Weak, but Charges Still Possible

You may have heard that starting on July 1, a new law went into effect in Florida that aims to ban the sale of certain drug paraphernalia, such as bongs, pipes and rolling papers routinely used to smoke marijuana and other controlled substances.
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However, our Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers recognize that the measure is likely to be largely lackluster in terms of immediate impact. Still, it’s a mistake for store owners and marijuana users to brush this off by thinking it will have no impact whatsoever. Charges are still possible – in fact, probable, if you aren’t careful.

The new law, introduced as House Bill 49, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, for any retailer to willfully or knowingly sell drug paraphernalia. Second and subsequent violations are boosted to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, loss of a driver’s license, their business and the right to vote.

The way the law was originally penned, it was supposed to ban smoking devices made of ceramic, metal, acrylic, glass, plastic, wood or stone, with or without screens. It would have included all water pipes, bongs, ice pipes, electric pipes etc. Technically, the law only allows pipes made of corn cob, clay, meerschaum or briar.

But the law, as it is detailed in Florida Statute 893.147, is incredibly vague. The first version of the law did not have the “knowingly or willfully” provision. Adding this clause makes a huge difference in terms of enforcement. Unless law enforcement can prove that a shop intentionally sold a pipe to someone for the explicit purposes of drug use, they don’t have a case.

So what this means is that the items listed are only illegal if they are sold, used or intended/designed for use in a specific manner consistent with consumption of controlled substances.

For the most part, shops that sell these devices were already very careful about refusing sale or service to individuals who made references to illegal drug use. In some cases, stores have written policies posted on the doors saying that if a customer states or even infers that the product is going to be used to consume illegal drugs, he or she will be turned away.

Mostly, what the law does is give store owners a very strong incentive to follow this rule.

As far as those purchasing the materials, it’s not illegal unless you are using it for the purposes of consuming illegal drugs. So the pipe, bong, rolling papers, etc. are not considered drug paraphernalia unless they are either found with drugs or drug residue.

While marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in 18 states plus the District of Columbia, Florida is not among those. Florida Statute 893.147 holds that it is illegal to use, possess, manufacture, deliver, transport or advertise drug paraphernalia. This is a first-degree misdemeanor.

If you’ve been arrested, call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. The Ansara Law Firm serves Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Florida ‘Bong Bill’ May Have Lost Its Bite, But Could Still Lead to Serious Charges, July 12, 2013, By Dean Gailgani, The Daily Chronic
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