March 24th, 2011
City Bans Smoking Paraphernalia, Opens Door For Latino Harassment

The City of Corpus Christi, Texas passed an ordinance that would ban anything that could be used to smoke illegal substances on February 8; the ordinance banned pipes but allows for hookahs. Big problem is, things you can use to smoke tobacco can also be used to smoke legal substances, so an ordinance like this gives a lot of power to those left to enforce it — you know, the police.

If you look at this issue long enough, what you can see is that the city is positioning itself to be able to step up harassment of Latinos while simultaneously putting Latino business owners out of business. If you recall, we’ve reported multiple times on News Taco that Latinos are often more likely to be harassed for drugs by police than whites. This is the case whether there are drug-sniffing dogs involved, or whether it’s just up to officer discretion to decide who may be carting around drugs.

So what Corpus Christi has done is open a gateway for its police forces to step up enforcement on Latinos for drugs that they may, or may not have. Think about it, you can smoke out of or with almost anything — what about apples, soda cans, cigars even? Here’s basically what the ordinance outlaws:

any device, equipment, or utensil that is used, intended to be used, or by its design can be used in ingesting or inhaling illegal smoking materials and may include but is not limited to:

  1. A metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipe with or without a screen, permanent screen, hashish head, or punctured metal bowl;
  2. A water pipe;
  3. A carburetion tube or device;
  4. A smoking or carburetion mask;
  5. A chamber pipe;
  6. A carburetor pipe;
  7. An electric pipe;
  8. An air-driven pipe;
  9. A chillum;
  10. A bong; or
  11. An ice pipe or chiller.

We spoke to one of the attorneys representing 5 plaintiffs who run smoke shops involved in a lawsuit against the city over this ordinance, Mariana Garza. All told there are eight stores in Corpus Christi that qualify as smoke shops, that amounts to about 50 part-jobs, and two of the stores provide health insurance to their employees. This ordinance is effectively putting them out of business because most of their money comes from the sale of pipes.

While two of the store owners are white, six are Latino, and all of them operate within state and federal paraphernalia laws to the extent that, if someone says the word “bong” in their stores, they have to leave. The ordinance carried the additional burden of being passed right before Spring Break, when these shop owners would have, potentially, had a surge in business.

Perhaps what makes the passing of the ordinance even more outrageous is that it attorneys representing the smoke shop owners claim the city violated the Texas Open Meeting Act twice in the process of passing this ordinance. In other words, it was illegal. Finally, attorneys also claim that a city ordinance oversteps its authority and is trumped by state laws, which are not as harsh.

Currently the judge is deciding whether or not to issue an injunction against this ordinance, we’ll keep you updated at News Taco.

Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD

[Image Courtesy Facebook]

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