Legislation that began as an effort to eliminate head shops from the state of Florida ended up improving the laws in our industry’s favor.
The original version of HB 49 outlawed the sale of pipes and smoking devices, regardless of their intended use. This threatened to put the state’s 300 smoke shops out of business.
At a time when public opinion and legislation has been trending in our favor, Florida’s bill was poised to send the state backwards. This would have been a significant setback for manufacturers and distributors outside of Florida as well. According to research by Headquest Magazine, Florida is the 3rd largest buyer of pipes behind only California and Texas.
But Jay Work, the owner of Grateful J’s, wasn’t going to sit back and watch out-of-touch politicians legislate his store out of business. He quickly got to work organizing a coalition known as the Florida Smoke Shop Association.
They hired legal representation and a lobbyist with direct access to Florida state senators. This allowed the smoke shops to communicate the problems with HB 49 and an alternate version was introduced in the Senate.
This new bill contained one vital amendment. Rather than criminalizing the sale of all pipes, which can be used to smoke tobacco and other legal herbs, the law now applies only to sales where the retailer is knowingly and willfully selling a pipe that is intended for use with an illegal substance.
This amendment, which is more industry-friendly than the federal paraphernalia law, was adopted into the House version of the bill and passed by both chambers. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature and will go into effect on July 1, 2013.
This effort to rid Florida of pipes stems from one man’s personal mission. Darryl Rouson, a member of Florida’s House of Representatives since 2008, was addicted to crack cocaine in the 1980s. He is the former chair of the National Bar Association’s Substance Abuse and Addictions Task Force and has headed a substance abuse ministry at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.
Rouson’s misguided war against smoke shops dates back to at least 2001 when he was charged with petty theft after taking 11 tubes from Sam’s Shell. The charges were dropped, but in 2004 he was convicted of trespassing following an altercation at Purple Haze.
He escalated the fight in 2009 when he introduced HB 187. This bill, which was signed into law but won’t go into effect until the end of 2013 due to legal challenges, mandates that a retail establishment cannot generate more than 25% of its annual revenue from the sale of pipes.
Not content with limiting the sale of pipes, Rouson decided to try to ban pipes entirely with HB 49. Exemptions were made for traditional tobacco pipes, but the reality is that glass pipes are used by people who smoke tobacco and plenty of other legal herbs.
There is only one reason that Florida smoke shops weren’t legislated out of business in May and that is the united front created by the Florida Smoke Shop Association. By banding together, making their collective voices heard, and raising money to pay for lawyers and a lobbyist, these retail stores and glass artists were able to change state law in their favor.
As our industry has grown over the past few years, we’ve been hearing more calls for unity and organization. This nearly catastrophic event in Florida proves the necessity and effectiveness of trade associations to our future.
“There is only one reason that Florida smoke shops
weren’t legislated out of business in May
and that is the united front created by
the Florida Smoke Shop Association.”
The FSSA has 65 member stores (as of May 8th) and that list continues to grow. Retail stores can join for a $1,000 donation and membership for glass artists is just $200.
In addition to protecting their legal interests, members get benefits like discounts and free products from industry vendors. Any store that joins right now will get $1,000 in merchandise from a detox company, effectively making it free to join.
In April, during the Glassroots Art Show in Austin, over 50 people turned out to hear Jay speak about HB 49 and the Florida Smoke Shop Association. Seeing this many people show up at 9am, an hour before the show opened, demonstrated the intense interest in this issue and the broader topic of industry unity.
Jay said that the younger shop owners have embraced the organization and recognize the value. It’s the old guard that takes more convincing. They’re afraid of being on a list, to which he passionately argued, “You’re already on the fucking list! That’s why they made the bill.”
This fight is far from over. Although sanity prevailed on HB 49, the FSSA is going to need member unity and financial support to challenge HB 187 when it goes into effect. And Rouson isn’t likely to give up his life’s mission to rid Florida of what he calls “utensils of death.”
Those of us who aren’t in Florida can do our part by donating money directly to the FSSA. And artists are encouraged to donate glass pieces to be auctioned in support of the organization. More information about joining the FSSA can be found at www.FloridaSmokeShops.org.
By Matt LaPrairie