Smoke Shops Busted, Investigation Questioned

Thousands of dollars in merchandise was confiscated and several people were arrested during a large scale drug investigation in the North County.  The big question: Were the people under arrest doing anything wrong?

Law enforcement and city leaders from around the North County gathered Friday to denounce those who they say are encouraging drug use in their community.

"It's just common sense and we're relying on the expertise of our law enforcement officers, and recovering drug addicts to tell us. No, these are not devices used for smoking tobacco," Damon Mosler from the District Attorney's Office said. 

On Thursday, police and sheriff's teams searched 11 so called "head shops" in Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido.  They confiscated more than 17,000 pieces of merchandise they claim can be categorized as illegal drug paraphernalia.  Ten people were arrested, most of which included shop owners.

The sheriff's department says 20 stores were served warning notices last month asking the store owners to comply with state law.  Only nine stores agreed to do so.

The owners are charged with selling drug paraphernalia.  The problem is, they claim these pipes are sold for tobacco use only.  One store owner said they make customers sign a sheet of paper acknowledging anything they buy cannot be used for illegal drugs.  That owner says she even checked with police before opening her store.

"I don't sell any any magazines that show any products that are illegal.  I don't sell t-shirts, novelty items that show any marijuana leaves on them because my product is strictly not for marijuana," the store owner said.

The charges against those arrested are misdemeanors, the District Attorney's Office said.  If the suspects are cleared of the charges, then they will get their merchandise returned to them.

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