By J. Glynn Loope, CRA Executive Director
There is more trouble in Washington , DC , but this time it's a few blocks from Capitol Hill. It's in the Washington , DC City Council chambers.
An initial group of five (possibly eight) city council members, including Marion Barry, Tommy Wells, Michael Brown, Yvette Alexander and Harry Thomas, have introduced an amendment to the Drug Paraphernalia Act of 1982, known as the “Single Sale of Cigar Products Prohibition Act of 2009.” The very reading of “cigars” in a “drug paraphernalia” ordinance is deeply disturbing, and the reason such a trend needs to stop – now.
The intent of the proposed ordinance is to prevent the use of cigars as a means to marijuana use. The draft ordinance defines cigar as “an individual cigar, cigar leaf wrapper, flavored or non flavored cigar that is referred to as a blunt, blunt wrap, or any other tobacco product that may be used in the ingesting, inhaling or introduction of marijuana to the human body.”
In this draft, there is no mention of price, size, hand-made, machine-made, or other defining characteristics of cigars. While media reports have said its intent is to ban sales at convenience stores and gas stations, there is no mention of them in the bill either.
Local premium tobacconists such as W. Curtis Draper and Georgetown Tobacco view the language as too vague, with John Anderson of W. Curtis Draper stating, “It's scary because it's open ended.” David Berkebile of Georgetown Tobacco intends to join in the opposition. The measure is not without precedent. Just over the border in Maryland , Prince George 's County Council, where ordinances were advanced to require sales of cigars in packs of five, helped usher in a trend with such public policy. That legislation did exempt stores that specialize in cigar sales.
Earlier this year, Mayor Sheila Dixon of Baltimore , Maryland stated, “cheap cigars are becoming popular and these products are addictive and deadly.” The effort in Maryland was praised by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, stating “Individual cigars are more affordable to price sensitive kids.”
We would like to dramatize how such nebulous policies can lead to unwarranted and unjust actions.
Recently, a customer of Havana Connections, a Richmond , Virginia based premium tobacconist, purchased a $10 cigar, left the shop, and proceeded to drive home. He was enjoying the cigar in the privacy of his car, when he saw the blue lights flashing in the rear view mirror.
When the cigar enthusiast asked what the problem was, the officer said he saw smoke, and wanted to know if he was using marijuana. Obviously, the answer was no, but the officer said “well, I have probable cause. Give me the cigar. I need to test it.”After some protest, he took it; set the cigar down, and the officer proceeded to cut this premium hand made cigar in half, dousing it with a solution to test for the presence of marijuana. Guess what? There was none. The cigar enthusiast proceeded to say, “you owe me $10 for that cigar.” The officer said, no, but you can take it up with our office. He did, and they gave him $40 for his trouble. True story. Two weeks old. Amazing.
In government, especially at the local and state level, one of the foremost contributing reasons to bad public policy is the setting of precedent and others saying “we should do that too.” That's how an outdoor smoking ban makes its way from San Francisco to Boston . That has been the case on matters of indoor and outdoor smoking bans, private property (housing) smoking bans, regulation of advertising and marketing, and the setting of tax policy. Hopefully on September 29, a committee of Washington DC City Council will set aside this proposed ordinance. More so, however, there needs to be a halt to the very introduction of these measures across the country.