Special Report : A Crack in the System - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special Report : A Crack in the System

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By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

October 30, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - They aren't selling drugs from behind the counter, but as we discovered, some stores just might be making it easier for junkies to get their fix. "Super Easy," said one man.

But I wanted to see for myself. So, in I went. Just a couple of minutes later, I came back with a bag of goods. I bought the ingredients necessary to make my very own crack pipe.

"You can use that and stick some brillo pad in there and that's your crack pipe. That's it. That's all you need."

The guy who just sold the stuff came out and saw that we were out here and he ran back inside, but we're going to confront him about what we just bought.  I said, "The reason, I'm here, you guessed it."  Kalpesh Atawala agreed, "As soon as I looked at your credit card, I recognized the name, you guys are investigating and want to see what's going on in the community."

"The drug commanders says there are these rose vases, brillo pads, folks use them to smoke crack. Does that surprise you?"

Atawala said, "I've heard of it, yes mam." "You have?" "Yes.""And you're selling them together at your store?" "Right. As far as I know they're not illegal."

And he's right. They're not illegal. But should they be?  Drug Commander, Major Derrell Smith said, "If you go into a store and you see a vase with a little rose in it and a brillo pads and stuff right next to it, or the little copper pads, it's to make a crack pipe."

The stores get away with selling them by calling them novelty items, gifts even. "How much do these cost?" "Just a dollar." "What are they used for?" "Just a gift someone."

"That's what they really for, as a rose gift, but that ain't what they used for."  When I went shopping, I also picked up flavored blunt wrappers, often used to roll joints and my very own pocket scale. Sold individually, none of these items is illegal. But do the store owners know that they are, in effect, selling drug paraphernalia?

"Do you know what these [blunt wrappers] are used for?" "I don't smoke, mam." "That's not what I asked you. Do you know what these are used for?" "They, I guess I do, but I don't know what to tell you."

But we found someone who knew exactly how they are used. He didn't want us to show his face or tell you his name. He said, "They smokin' weed!"

"I know they ain't rolling tobacco, 'cause you can buy a cigar for that matter. They already rolled for you." And so we asked Mr. Atawala again.  He said, "I guess I can say I do know what they use it for." "What are they used for?" "I'd rather not say it. I'd rather not say anything."

We found those same blunt wrappers in every other store we went into. Out in the open, for all to see, because after all, they're legal. Maj. Derrell Smith said, "We've made it easy for them now, or the manufacturers of these wraps have, they come in different flavors, easy access. I don't know too many people that are rolling their cigars in watermelon flavor or cherry flavored wrappers."

And if they're not buying the wrappers, perhaps customers are picking up small baggies, or even pocket scales. 

Our unnamed source said, "I don't know all of the possibilities in it, but I know it's to weigh bags of weed, you weigh your ounces up that way. That's how you know how much you got in the bag. That's how you know how much to charge."

In this store, we found decorative glass pipes. Some say they are used to smoke marijuana. The clerk said, "I don't know about that. I just sell it, I'm just cashier."

Major Smith said, "The stores that are selling this stuff know it's going on too, so that's what we've got to stop."

The city commission will soon try to outlaw certain items that are known drug paraphernalia. Commissioner Morris Gurr said, "I think it's very imperative that we look at changing our ordinance or creating a new ordinance against the selling of such items."

But outlawing these items could be an uphill battle. The ordinance must be very specific, Identifying each particular object that is a danger to public health, safety and welfare. If the law is changed, Mr. Atawala says he will follow it.  "I know that you know what they're sold for." He said, "If I don't sell it, they'll get it somewhere else. I know it's a bad defense on my part."

So the stores will continue to legally sell, so long as there is a Crack in the System. Some states and cities have managed to ban the rose vases.

Banning of blunt wrappers has proven to be difficult for many places because of resistance from the tobacco industry.

The Albany City Commission plans to take up the issue at an upcoming meeting.