Police eye ordinance changes to remove products from shelves
Like in most cities, there are a few stores in Forest Lake that have a reputation based on the nature of their business.
Even those who claim to have not entered them know of their existence. There’s the brightly-colored one on a main drag in town. There’s the one downtown.
These businesses are good talking points, but according to Forest Lake police, they are also bad neighbors. Much of the product sold at these places are identical to items police confiscate during arrests and traffic stops.
Soon, if the FLPD gets its wish, pipes, bongs and all sorts of other drug paraphernalia will be illegal to sell, possess or manufacture in Forest Lake.
Capt. Greg Weiss last week sent out letters to area businesses known to sell such items. The outreach served notice of the department’s intentions and explained the potential punishments for violation. Buyers would be committing a petty misdemeanor; sellers would be committing a misdemeanor.
For the department’s plan to take effect, the City Council will ultimately have to approve the updated drug paraphernalia ordinance that came before the governing body at its March 5 workshop.
In the meantime, Weiss hopes businesses make good use of the forewarning.
“It’s not our goal to surprise these places,” the captain said, noting police are more than willing to meet with business owners to hash out what would be legal and what would be contraband. “Our goal is compliance. Our goal is not enforcement, but we will take enforcement if we need to.”
The move, Weiss said, is long overdue. The city’s current drug ordinance is over 30 years old.
“We’ve talked about doing this for a long time,” Weiss said. “Our ordinance previously was adopted in 1982, the last time it was looked at. Obviously, drugs have changed: packaging, terminology, all this kind of stuff.”
The code’s aging has slowly created several problems for police. A lack of language fitting to today’s drug scene makes it hard to prosecute. The current criteria for prosecution requires sellers to have knowledge that a product will be used with drugs. The amended wording sets the threshold at whether the seller should “reasonably” know.
Also, Weiss said, it is hard to look fifth-graders in the eye during drug education classes and tell them something is bad when it is openly sold here.
“It’s a very mixed message coming from the police department, because we have locations in our city that are actively selling the same exact product we’re telling our kids is drug paraphernalia,” Weiss said.
The proposed ordinance changes would provide the power needed to prosecute; City Prosecutor Mike Welch helped develop the changes. It would strengthen the message being sent out to students, Weiss said, and would certainly limit access to materials commonly used for drug inhaling, ingesting, concealing, manufacturing, processing and packaging.
The ordinance’s effect on stores would vary based on the overall nature of their business, but for at least a couple, it would be significant.
“If they abide by this ordinance, their stock is going to be severely depleted,” Weiss said.
The vast majority of the public would back the changes, Weiss feels, but he knows he will likely be hearing this week from some upset business owners.
Weiss, Welch, Chief Rick Peterson and a member of a multi-agency narcotics task force studied similar ordinance updates on a regional basis. A few led to civil lawsuits.
The timing for this effort was brought on by an ongoing, end-to-end review of the police department’s policies and ordinances. It also stems from a police administration team that is willing to take action on the matter even if it creates waves.
To Weiss, the proposal is grounded in common sense, and the consequences of inaction would continue to grow. He notes that none of Forest Lake’s immediately surrounding communities have such shops, and that, he says, drives drug users into this city.
“Let’s face it, who’s going to smoke tobacco out of a glass pipe that’s specifically used to smoke methamphetamines?” Weiss said. “That’s foolish. It’s foolish to let it sit in our city and not do anything about it.”