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More Evil Glassware Smashed

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On March 2, assistant U.S. attorneys in North Carolina claimed victory in the latest battles of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's war on drug paraphernalia. Fed-led drug-law enforcers in Raleigh and Wilmington (both college towns) raided six local businesses and seized a booty of 3,800 metal and glass pipes, rolling papers, and other assorted items as part of a three-month sting operation code-named Operation Pipe Cleaner.

"Drug paraphernalia distributors legitimize the use of drugs by selling through public retail establishments but acting deliberately ignorant of the use of paraphernalia devices," said Frank Whitney, the U.S. attorney for central and eastern North Carolina. "Most importantly and most frightening, drug paraphernalia distributors prey on impressionable youth, targeting universities and high schools and distributing through the Internet."

No arrests were made, Whitney said, but the government may file criminal charges for illegal paraphernalia peddling against the business owners. The news came one year (almost to the day) after Ashcroft proudly announced 35 indictments for 55 individuals on charges of conspiracy to sell drug paraphernalia, in connection with prior sting operations – code-named, cutely enough, Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter. Among those indicted was comedian Tommy Chong, popped for selling an autographed hand-blown glass bong over the Internet to feds in Pennsylvania. Chong is currently serving a nine-month prison sentence and is scheduled for release early this summer; he is also appealing his conviction.

Drug policy reformers were disturbed by a comment at last week's press conference; according to both the Associated Press and Raleigh's News & Observer, Whitney said that Ashcroft issued a "directive" last year, "urging federal prosecutors to target drug users." The sting efforts themselves are nothing more than "high symbolism," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "They put forth symbols that lead people to believe they're winning the war on drugs. But they're just allegory, and not even good enough for a bad Bergman film." Still, NORML has filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request to determine whether Ashcroft has indeed put the word out to target drug users.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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