Who supports the drug trade?

July 07, 1992

No one was charged when the Eastern Police District's "Zone Rangers" unit cut across town to seize drug paraphernalia at the Sonja Wholesale shop downtown. The listed owner, Joseph Yi, was reportedly out of the country. The store's employees were allowed to remain at the building, which police described as a "warehouse" for drug equipment. Still, the incident threw light on an ugly fact of life: Many otherwise legitimate businesses profit from the drug trade, even if they never handle an ounce of addictive substances.

What the raiders did find was about 50 cardboard boxes filled with enough equipment to set up a major drug trafficking ring. Recovered were drug "cutting" chemicals; top-quality, expensive digital scales; a quarter of a million plastic vials; 99 plastic strainers; nearly 12,000 glass bottles of the size used to hold "crack" cocaine; a quarter of a million color-coded glassine "bags" of the type used to hold heroin; 6,000 manila envelopes; and more than 1.25 million assorted-size Ziploc plastic bags.

What is frightening, the police say, is that drug dealers buy such items in broad daylight to support their illicit operations. They make such purchases over the counter, mix up and package their "product" and go out to join the crowd saturating the streets with hard drugs. Until now, those selling tools and supplies to the purveyors of chaos have operated mainly outside the scrutiny of the law.

Last week's raid proved that is changing, however. Federal agents accompanied city police in their search for paraphernalia. In addition to seizing money police believe to be proceeds from sales of drug gear, the probers took business records.

Such raids should send a message to other merchants tempted by the seemingly easy money drug hustlers can bring in: People who help support drug-selling get just as dirty as the drug abusers the dealers despise. Supplying the tools of others' enslavement, they are as worthy of blame as the drug-sellers and enforcers, who stalk the streets dealing death to those who cross their paths.

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