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NAACP chief asks for bill to stop sales of 'death utensils'

Darryl Rouson says he's willing to go to jail if it helps stop stores from selling pipes and glass tubes that are used to smoke drugs.

By MARCUS FRANKLIN
Published February 19, 2005


The candy-colored hand-blown glass pipes started it all.

They drew Darryl Rouson to the Purple Haze Tobacco & Accessories Shop, where the pipes fill display cases. Rouson asked the owner to stop selling "death utensils under the guise of tobacco accessories," alluding to the contention that the pipes and glass tubes are used to smoke drugs like crack.

Purple Haze's owner, Leo Calzadilla, and other employees repeatedly asked Rouson to leave the store at 1427 34th St. S, Calzadilla told police. Rouson said he didn't leave because he was frightened by pit bullterriers in the store.

In April, the St. Petersburg NAACP president will stand trial on a misdemeanor charge of trespassing. But the possibility of jail time hasn't ended a campaign Rouson - a former drug addict who will mark his seventh drug-free year next month - started waging years ago.

On Friday, the 48-year-old attorney took his cause to Tallahassee, trying to strengthen support for proposed legislation to "cripple" retailers' ability to sell the merchandise, or close some shops altogether.

"The law allows them to operate behind a curtain that says tobacco accessories," Rouson said. "Everybody and their cousin knows that these pipes are rarely used for smoking tobacco."

Rouson spoke Friday to the state's 25-member Drug Policy Advisory Council appointed by the governor and the Legislature to consider drug policy.

"I think his message was well-received," said James R. McDonough, director of the state Office of Drug Control and co-chair of the council.

State law now defines "drug paraphernalia" broadly and includes "glass pipes" to "ingest or inhale" illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. But sometimes the pipes sold in tobacco shops contain decorative roses, some say disguising their real use.

Police and prosecutors often have trouble proving a person's intent to use a glass tube bearing a rose to smoke illegal drugs, McDonough said.

"It's not even a wink and a nod," he said. "Owners often know that the purpose of the item they're selling is for the use of . . . illegal drugs."

Rouson already has gained support among state lawmakers.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Stephen Wise, a Republican from Jacksonville, filed a bill for the new legislative session that begins next month to create a yearlong Drug Paraphernalia Abatement Task Force. It would recommend "strategies and actions for abating access to and the use and proliferation of drug paraphernalia," according to the bill.

Even before Rouson first visited the Capitol on the issue in December, Wise said his constituents in Jacksonville had been showing up with glass tubes containing roses to complain at his office.

"It's not something you give your girlfriend for Valentine's Day," he said. "I would suspect people on the street know exactly what it's used for. People who are selling it have a pretty good clue what it's for, too."

Wise and Rouson said potential changes include tougher state rules for tobacco shops that sell the pipes such as requiring at least 51 percent of sales to come from tobacco or restrictions on locations.

Rouson pointed out that Purple Haze is four blocks from Gibbs High School.

Calzadilla, the store's owner, said he was not worried about the legislation.

"It's not going to affect my business because I don't sell drug paraphernalia. I sell tobacco products," Calzadilla said. He said he also sells cigarettes, cigars and 1-pound bags of tobacco bought increasingly by former cigarette smokers fed up with rising costs.

Signs outside Purple Haze warn customers who say they intend to use illegal drugs will be put out of the store.

"If a customer came in my store and said they were going to use it for something illegal, or I even sensed that they were going to use it for something illegal I won't sell to them," said Calzadilla. He said about 55 percent of his sales come from tobacco and about 25 percent from pipes.

"You could go into Home Depot and buy spray paint and use that for illegal purposes," Calzadilla said. "Is (Rouson) going to got into Home Depot and say we don't want you to sell spray paint? Anything can be used for a wrong thing."

Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, said he has followed Rouson and the issue for years. In 2001, Rouson was arrested on a petty theft charge after he took 11 glass tubes sold with silk roses from Sam's Shell. The charge was later dropped.

Recently he asked Peterman if he could introduce the bill in the house. Peterman said yes.

"We need to do something about them being very accessible to people who are suffering from the use of it," Peterman said.

In the meantime, Rouson said he will deal with the trespass charge. He said State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office offered to resolve the charge if he wrote Calzadilla a letter apologizing and "saying that my method was wrong but my cause was right."

Rouson declined.

"But if convicted I will neither pay a fine nor costs and will go to jail under a hunger strike until the law changes and the deception is set aside," he said.

"The idea is to keep the public focused. The issue is not Darryl Rouson and a trespass charge. The issue is a legal lie we allow to exist in our society. Police and state attorneys have felt helpless to change it."

Marcus Franklin can be reached at mfranklin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8488.

[Last modified February 19, 2005, 00:56:09]


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