Should paraphernalia lead to doing time? Check these arguments.
- Public Safety The basic purpose of any criminal law is to protect public safety; i.e., to discourage conduct that is dangerous or harmful to the rest of us.
Question: Can anyone honestly say they feel safer today because Tommy Chong, a comedian and actor, has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for selling pipes on the internet? Of course not. These laws do nothing except make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding businessmen.
- Misguided Priorities At a time when the threat of terrorism is real, wasting law enforcement resources (it costs approximately $25,000 per year to keep one person in prison) prosecuting and imprisoning a nonviolent seller of pipes represents a misguided set of priorities. This is money that should be used fighting violent crime, including terrorism, instead of fighting cultural wars left over from the 1970s.
- Unfair Paraphernalia Laws The underlying problem with anti-paraphernalia laws is the difficulty a citizen has in determining in advance what conduct is legal, and what is illegal. These laws presume the seller knows how the buyer is going to use the product, when in fact that is generally not the case. Therefore we are left with the absurd situation that a pipe sold in a tobacco store is perfectly legal, but a pipe sold in a so-called "head shop" becomes illegal. Similarly a battery clip sold at a hardware store is legal, but the same clip sold in a head shop is illegal.
This encourages selective enforcement by the police and prosecutors, and breeds disrespect for the criminal law in general.
- Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the federal paraphernalia law. In a 1992 case entitled U.S. versus Posters and Things, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the federal anti-paraphernalia laws, so the only remedy is a political one. We must let our elected officials know that we do not support these silly laws.