The drug paraphernalia market realizes annual sales measured in billions of dollars – despite the fact that these products are largely illegal. However, legislation in this regard is difficult to enforce because the line between what is paraphernalia and what is not can be easily blurred. This is because drug paraphernalia can be virtually anything; an apple used to smoke marijuana, a light bulb, a section of brass piping, an aluminum can, razors, needles, credit cards, tobacco pipes and many other items. However, most types of paraphernalia used with illicit drugs are obviously used for those purposes, including pipes, needles, bongs and roach clips. Having a better public understanding of drug paraphernalia will help to create awareness among communities that can be used to reduce substance abuse and addiction.
Human beings have been using drugs for thousands of years. Early Sumerian and Mesopotamian groups used drugs like marijuana and opium widely – traditions that the Greeks carried on and subsequently passed to the Romans. In ancient Egypt drug use was also prolific. This means that drug paraphernalia has existed since the earliest days of human societies.
Thousands of years ago paraphernalia items were constructed of simple materials like wood, stone, and bone. Pipes and hookahs of ancient times were often commonly made with adornments of gold, silver and precious jewels. As an accepted part of early social life, drug use – and even addiction – was not associated with the depravity of today’s drug use. Entire businesses were built to service opium users, and paraphernalia used by these establishments were sometimes quite valuable.
Today, drug paraphernalia is illegal in most parts of the world. However, such laws are difficult to enforce, and penalties are often light. In most cases the discovery of drug kits or equipment leads to a search for the actual drugs, resulting in serious crimes and corresponding penalties that make paraphernalia charges almost redundant. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration states that:
“Under the Federal Drug Paraphernalia Statute, which is part of the Controlled Substances Act, it is illegal to possess, sell, transport, import, or export drug paraphernalia as defined. The law gives specific guidance on determining what constitutes drug paraphernalia. Many states have also enacted their own laws prohibiting drug paraphernalia.” (1)
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The problem with these laws is that they leave a lot open to interpretation. This is why large retail organizations are able to sell millions of dollars worth of illicit drug paraphernalia each year – including bongs, pipes, hookahs, vaporizers and more. This is because the items are sold for “tobacco use only,” even though it’s common knowledge that smoking tobacco from a bong or any of these other items would probably be a very painful and unpleasant experience. However, if these retail drug tools are free from drug debris or residue, it would be difficult to classify it as paraphernalia.
Therefore, instead of attempting to make these distinctions, most law enforcement officers look at paraphernalia as a sign of a larger crime and instead seek to uncover what that crime is – usually drug possession, at a minimum. Nevertheless, this issue has caused significant debate in the public and political spheres in America. Some have gone so far as to claim that paraphernalia laws are unconstitutional, and a panel of prominent judges was evenly split on the issue:
“The underlying tension between the constitutional demands for statutory clarity and the political goal of imposing sweeping prohibitions on the sale of drug-related merchandise is reflected in the divergence of judicial opinions on the validity of drug paraphernalia statutes and has resulted in a split between four United States Circuit Courts of Appeals on the constitutionality of the Model Act.” (2)
This ambivalence has led to a monstrous supply and demand chain for drug paraphernalia that is largely uninterrupted by police efforts. In fact, most paraphernalia cases result in very light sentencing of convicted offenders.
But despite this surprising prevalence of tools for illicit drug use, many people have never seen or heard of the paraphernalia associated with certain drugs. The following is a description of the most commonly used illicit drugs and related implementation devices:
- Metal, Steel, Brass, Wooden, Glass, Stone, Bone and other types of pipes
- Bongs and Water Pipes. Can be made from household items like soda bottles, or can be purchased.
- Hookah – like a bong but without any water. Often features multiple user mouthpieces.
- Vaporizer – a variety of electronic products that vaporize marijuana as opposed to burning it.
- Grinders – plastic, metal or wooden, grinders are used to pulverize and blend marijuana so that it will burn longer when smoked
- Scrapers – often consisting of credit cards, business cards or identification cards, scrapers are used to manipulate processed marijuana.
- Roach Clips – small clips used to enable a user to smoke the very end of a marijuana joint without getting burned.
- Pipes can be used but are often made from simple materials like tinfoil.
- Straws and currency with meth residue on them qualify as paraphernalia.
- Light Bulbs – can be hollowed out, meth inserted, lit from underneath by a lighter and inhaled with a straw.
- Scales for measuring are often confiscated from people who sell or distribute meth.
- Aluminum cans – can be converted to a pipe.
According to the Meth Awareness and Prevention Project of South Dakota, hollowed out pens are often an indicator of meth use;
“A hollow pen may be used to carry Meth or to snort finely crushed Meth. It may also serve as a ‘pipe stem’ to inhale fumes.” (3)
- Straws and rolled-up dollar bills are the preferred method of cocaine consumption for many users.
- Razors and credit cards are often used to chop the product very finely and scrape it into lines for snorting.
- CD Cases – are often used to cut up cocaine and many users snort from them directly. Cocaine residue found on a CD case qualifies that item as contraband.
- Baggie corners – cocaine is often packaged in small sandwich baggies. Strictly weighed portions are twisted down into the corner of a baggie and then ripped off for convenient storage and protection.
- Blackened spoons are a sign that someone has been cooking cocaine into crack.
- Hypodermic needles.
- Pipes – heroin can be smoked, but this is not the preferred method.
- Tourniquet – used to “tie off” a vein during intravenous use.
Most of the methods and types of paraphernalia employed by drug users are enough to indicate the nature of the risk involved with substance abuse. If you’ve found evidence of paraphernalia and you suspect someone you care about is using drugs, call us right now for a free, private consultation. Our drug rehab center is widely considered to be one of the most successful in the country. To see how we can put this success to work for your recovery or that of someone you love, all you need to do is pick up the phone right now.
(2) Kenneth E. Johnson The Constitutionality of Drug Paraphernalia Laws Columbia Law Review Vol. 81, No. 3 (Apr., 1981), pp. 581-611 JSTOR