Vancouver’s city attorney and City Council members are looking at a proposal that would prohibit retail stores from exposing minors to implements associated with drug use.

City council takes steps to restrict access to drug paraphernalia.

Responding to the efforts of a local community organization, late last year the City Council began examining ways in which legal ordinances might be amended to constrict the sale of drug paraphernalia within city limits.

Current statutes allow establishments to display and sell these types of items due to several areas of legal uncertainty. The chief reason such loopholes exist is that even paraphernalia with strong illicit associations can also be used for perfectly legitimate purposes. A water pipe, for example, can be used to smoke tobacco as well as marijuana and methamphetamine. Therefore, in order to prosecute individuals for selling, gifting, or possessing such implements, it is imperative to prove that they are used, intended for use, and/or designed for use in conjunction with a controlled substance.

Outraged by the ongoing sale of drug paraphernalia in “kid-friendly” locations such as convenience stores, the grassroots substance abuse prevention coalition PREVENT (Prevent Reduce Educate Voice Empower Nurture Transform) wants to beef up city ordinances that address the sale of questionable items. The primary objective of the group is twofold: To show respect for the recovery community that must distance itself from addictive triggers, and to send a message to young people that drug use is both prohibited and unacceptable.

In lieu of an outright ban, PREVENT is advocating a policy that would limit the sale of drug paraphernalia to establishments that exclude unaccompanied minors.

Enforceability a key question

After examining PREVENT’s proposal from a legal standpoint, the city attorney’s office decided to recommend a “safer and more easily enforced” approach. In addition to questions of overall practicality, city officials are concerned about the PREVENT plan’s impact on small businesses, not to mention the potential lawsuits that might arise in its wake.

As a result they are working on a plan that would require storeowners keep all retail drug paraphernalia locked up and out of sight, thereby denying minors access to such items in much the same way that they are denied access to tobacco products and pornography.

The issue continues to be a substantial stumbling block. The ultimate question remains whether or not any statute of this kind can be successfully applied and executed. Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu has been quite clear on this matter: While he enthusiastically endorses the intent of the city attorney’s proposal, he foresees that the practical implementation of the ordinance will prove exceedingly difficult.

Police Cheif Chu and Assistant City Attorney Terry Weiner in a lighter moment after appearing before city council.

Due to staffing and funding deficits, Chu warns that effective enforcement of any additional drug paraphernalia ordinance would weaken the police department’s response to core crime issues such as burglary and assault. As a result, the department will be forced to treat violations of this ordinance as a “low priority” offense.

“I’m not trying to minimize the issue around drug paraphernalia, but it’s an issue of when resources are going to be available as to how much enforcement activity actually does occur,” says Chu. “And I will tell you that, like any other ordinance or any other law, if there is no real means of demonstrating across-the-board, consistent enforcement, it tends to weaken the statute.”

Vancouver City Council meets tonight from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for a workshop, and at 7 p.m. for the regular council meeting


City Council
City Hall Council Chambers
415 West 6th Street (2nd Floor)
Vancouver WA 98660

Tonight’s city council agenda.


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