FLPD hopes to target drug paraphernalia

Police eye ordinance changes to remove products from shelves


Products such as these on display at a local business may be illegal to possess or sell in Forest Lake, if the City Council approves ordinance changes proposed by the police department. (FLPD photo)
Products such as these on display at a local business may be illegal to possess or sell in Forest Lake, if the City Council approves ordinance changes proposed by the police department. (FLPD photo)

Clint Riese
News Editor

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.”

  • CSG

    I taught junior high in FLake for 34 years, from ’71 – ’05. Sincere KUDOS all.. make the ordinance updates happen!!

    • motor city

      And I see you still don’t know why kids make poor choices. When I was being “educated” at that time, in your class, no one ever told us the truth about drugs and alcohol. Just a lot of dark ages scary nonsense that didn’t help at all. Please stop telling kids things that are nothing more than opinion based on baggage from your childhood.

  • Rob R.

    First, let’s understand that these businesses do not sell drug paraphernalia, they sell tobacco products. There isn’t any drug paraphernalia anywhere, until those legal products are combined with poor personal choices and drugs. This logic begs the question: how long will it be before the Chief seeks to shut down liquor stores to reduce drunk driving? The shortfall here would seem to be the effectivness of the the FLPD to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the city and/ or the effectivness of their drug education program.

    Drugs are illegal now. The products of these stores are not sold to 5th graders. It is absurd to imply 5th graders are questioning using illegal substances because of the existence of the stores in Forest Lake.

    Putting these establishments out of business will not solve the police department’s problem with drugs or paraphernalia. Has a drug user ever, simply because they didnt have the right glass pipe with a fancy design on it, fail to get high? It is foolish to think this ordinance will have any impact on illicit drug use. If the FLPD wants to appear useful: stick to the business of enforcing the laws we have on the books, and out of the business of closing businesses.

    • Dave Mowers

      Wrong! Everything sold in head shops is specifically listed in federal law as drug paraphernalia. It does not matter what you claim it is for. Congress has determined what it is for and that is why periodically the D.E.A. sweeps the entire nation busting head shops. Don’t believe it? Call the D.E.A. for confirmation the two pieces of legislation are the Controlled Substances Act and Mail Order Act.

      • Rob R

        I don’t need to “call the DEA”, I have the internet, you can make your own phone calls. The Controlled Substances Act states


        The term “drug paraphernalia” means any equipment, product, or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use…

        The crux here, and as stated above, is INTENT. If the primary intent of a store is to sell drug paraphernalia, they should be put out of business. Why don’t you do some calling around, ask any of the stores what the primary intent of their products are, then you can call the DEA with your findings. Let me know how that works out.

  • Sharon

    I think the flpd is doing a good job and I hope they continue to fight for this ordinance . And just in case people do not know our fifth graders are asking about these places and they are standing behind the school smoking and even drinking really there is a problem in forest lake clean it up

  • Nick S

    It would be sad to see a local tax paying business shut down because of misinformed city lawmakers. Just the other day I was watching an episode of “Addicted” and the addicts in the show were using lightbulbs, popcans, and car antennaes to smoke their drugs…As long as these stores are complying with only selling to adults I am not sure what the problem is. Oh and a quick tip should new ordinances pass I am pretty sure the Walmart, and also Walgreens sell pipes too! Did they get a notice?

  • http://lemonparty.org Ohhi

    From a legal standpoint, those items are not illegal and should not be made so.

    From a common sense view, can’t the cops just sit out front and follow the buyers to their driveway. Stay on public property, of course.

    It doesn’t take a scholar to realize these aren’t tobacco accessories and that they tend to be used by people with paranoia issues.

    • Dave Mowers

      Wrong! They are already illegal under federal law. You cannot make, sell, distribute, ship across State lines, import or export anything listed in the Controlled Substances Act as drug paraphernalia. Any glass pipe, bong, one hitter, chillum, stone pipes, metal pipes, dug outs any of those are illegal. After Operation Pipe Dreams the majority of U.S. States adopted the exact same language in their own laws on drug paraphernalia.

      The only way to avoid federal law is to make the stuff yourself. Selling or accepting U.S. currency for illegal items is money laundering. If you make glass pipes you cannot legally deposited money in a bank account under money laundering laws.

      • Ryan

        If it is illegal under federal law, why the need for the ordinance, just wondering?

  • Mike J

    Seems naive to think shutting down a business will stop people from using drugs. Life must be pretty good in Flake if cops have time to worry about a couple little stores.

  • Nate

    From reading this, this is what I get out of it.

    Are these types of pipes, bongs, etc… used for drug activity 90% or more of the time, yes.
    Will someone buying one tell you that it is used for drugs, no.
    Is it easy to catch someone using drugs, no.
    Does the court system deal with drug users/dealers in such a manner that it makes them stop, no (especially in MN).
    Does doing drugs alter your mind such that you do things that are a crime, such as breaking and entering, theft, domestic disturbances, etc…, yes.
    Are these crimes on the rise in Forest Lake, yes.
    Are there more drugs in school, not just weed but hard drugs, yes.
    Do we want to keep the community and kids safe, yes.
    The list of yes/no can go on and I think paints a clearer picture.

    The question then becomes, how do we change the course. If it is extremely difficult to catch these people in the act, then I think the next step is what the FLPD is doing. You need to go to the supplier. Do these businesses know what kind of business they run, yes they do. Yes, it’s unfortunate that a business may go out of business from the law but this may be an instance where the risk taken to run this type of business didn’t pan out.

    Drugs are not something that should be taken lightly and I think should be dealt with as the FLPD is doing. I commend them for being proactive and cleaning up the town.

  • Kelly Wing

    All stronger ordinances aside, we need better parenting- parents who will be the ones to raise their kids, not a daycare. When parents do their job correctly, the drugs and their ordinances become irrelevant. Let’s not pawn off the responsibilty again to the government. Raise your own kids, have them respect their body, don’t let them watch bad TV or hang with bad character kids/families.

  • Don Keitz

    Saying that we are going to reduce drug usage by outlawing the selling of “drug paraphernalia” is almost like saying if we outlaw the sale of beer mugs, wine glasses, shot glasses, etc. then we will reduce alcohol consumption. What about the internet? They can always buy their accessories on there. What about homemade paraphernalia?

    We should be focusing on prevention of drug usage and drug possession. We should ask the questions: Why do people in Forest Lake start using? Where are people using drugs in Forest Lake? How do people in Forest Lake get their drugs? If fewer people are possessing and using drugs, then presumably fewer will have a need for drug paraphernalia. Therefore, instead of demanding that a successful business stop selling legal products, the free market decides their fate. There are much better ways of reducing drugs usage then simply banning the sale of drug paraphernalia.

    In response to the chief’s comment on that, “none of Forest Lake’s immediately surrounding communities have such shops.”

    Our immediately surrounding communities are Hugo, Wyoming, Columbus, and Scandia; four communities that are not even comparable to Forest Lake in size, both economically and population wise. Sure, Hugo had 13,332 people in the 2010 census, yet they are nearly 30% smaller than Forest Lake in population, and have nowhere near the economic and financial power of Forest Lake. Forest Lake’s economy is so much larger and more well-known than Hugo’s, that we are the name sake of a regional chamber of commerce that includes 7 communities, 40,000+ citizens that covers over 215 square miles (Forest Lake Area Chamber of Commerce). Of course, our immediately surrounding communities are not going to have a drug paraphernalia store. Forest Lake is what the German geographer, Walter Christaller would call a “central place.” In other words, people from surrounding communities come to Forest Lake to buy goods and services because their communities do not offer them or there are more/better options here. The point is, you cannot blame a legal business owner for setting up shop in an economic center of 40,000 Minnesotans and ask, “Why doesn’t a substantially smaller community have a store like this?”

    What are the citizens concerned with? Look at the results of the 2012 City Survey. You find will that three people have complained about drugs in Forest Lake, compared to nine who complained about vandalism. Look at 2012 arrest records, the PD made 88 arrests for possession of drug paraphernalia versus 155 arrests for vandalism (a crime when the perpetrator is infrequently found). Should be make an ordinance that bans companies from selling spray-paint? In that fashion, obesity is still an issue. Should we ban Big Gulps?

    Yes. Drugs are bad. However, if the PD truly wants to reduce drug usage, they shouldn’t ban selling of legal products. Again, consider the 2012 city survey. The survey also indicates that citizens are concerned with “perceived drug deals” in parking lots and “obvious drug houses.” I think we all have seen groups of people, hanging out the shadowy outskirts of the Northland Mall parking lot or have heard rumors of a meth houses. The PD should be creative with tactics, establish efficient taskforces, engage the community, and should not create a PR stunt and Witch Trial against said businesses. It is much easier for the police and the city government to sit back and ban something, rather than investigating leads, enforcing the law, and being innovative with community drugs problems.

  • motor city

    mixed message for kids? so how many stores in town show the 5th graders that the right beer gets you hot chicks and good times? And alcohol kills more people every day than all other drugs combined.

  • Ryan

    Fine. If they are selling syringes, needles and instruction pamphlets on how to manufacture crack cocaine etc then get rid of paraphernalia that is associated with harmful addictive hardcore illegal substances. Most of the paraphernalia is for smoking some grass. Leave the bongs and pot pipes alone they ain’t hurting anyone…

    If your gonna get rid of the bongs and zigzags then do it right, shut down the bars and liquor stores also because you might have to look that fifth grader in the eye. Lets take it a step further and take that 70’s show out of syndication in Forest Lake, someone might see them toking it up in the basement… What a joke.

    Parents: Your children are going to have decisions to make in this life, do your very best to guide them to make the right ones about alcohol and drugs. If he or she is going in there to buy a pipe your problem already existed.

    But did I read that right, your drug ordinances haven’t been looked at since 1982? Any corporation in the world would revisit their policies more than once every 5 or 6 years much less every 30 yrs, pathetic. By the way, what is this stunt going to cost the taxpayers in this town?

    Piece of advice to government in Flake, leave the head shops alone, wrap up your 5yr road construction projects and get the heck out of the way of small business. This whole thing reeks of ulterior motive and political grandstanding.

  • thatONEguy

    First of all, in response to Nate’s post, drugs do not alter the mind to cause someone to commit crimes. To commit a crime high in drugs, one must have already had the intention to do so. Harder drugs, stimulants in particular, are more of a catalyst, bringing about the intentions of criminals. And in response to Weiss’s quote, I have yet to see one pipe being sold at any head shop I have set foot in intended for methamphetamine use. I feel like our nation is filled with this hypocrisy, having alcohol legal an marijuana illegal. Any person who has tried smoking marijuana will tell you, being drunk inhibits one’s functioning much more than marijuana. Out nation is advancing rapidly, and why we worry about marijuana is irrelevant, it is going to be legal in two years anyway.