Where There's Smoke. . .?

January 10, 1995

Selling drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor in Maryland, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. This little-used law was invoked recently by Howard County in charging an Ellicott City shop owner, her son and an employee with selling smoking pipes that authorities believed were intended for ingesting illegal drugs. Senior Assistant Solicitor F. Todd Taylor is also seeking a court injunction on the county's behalf to stop the sale of the devices at the shop.

For her part, shopkeeper Debra Ann Smith is calling the prosecution unfair, although she has stopped selling the pipes since her arrest. Ms. Smith's store, Moon Star, opened in 1993 along historic Ellicott City's Main Street, selling vintage clothing, jewelry and antiques. A year ago, the county granted her a license to sell tobacco and smoking devices.

Last summer, two undercover detectives went to the shop to purchase smoking devices and were led to a locked room where several tables of pipes were for sale, but no tobacco. Ms. Smith; her son, Joshua Hawk Smith, 19, and store manager Trista Richardson Turner were all arrested. Among the items seized were 113 pipes, some as long as five feet. As if in anticipation of the obvious, a sign hanging in the shop said the pipes could be purchased only by adults and "were for smoking tobacco and legal herbs."

Ms. Smith says she is being charged only because police didn't find any drugs in the shop, even though her employee was charged with possessing a small amount of marijuana in her purse. Ms. Smith's accusation is reminiscent of last year's case in Carroll County involving another shopkeeper, Pamela Snowhite Davis, who county officials prosecuted for drug possession and subsequently arrested for allegedly selling hemp seeds. The latter charges were widely perceived as trumped up and Ms. Davis was ultimately acquitted of those charges.

But the Howard County case is not the same as Carroll's, where law enforcement officials were overzealous in their pursuit of Ms. Davis. The Smith case stems from a complaint lodged by another Main Street merchant who felt Ms. Smith's merchandise attracted an undesirable clientele. There is no evidence as yet that selective prosecution is involved.

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