Tunney proposes crackdown on head shops

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Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) wants to tighten the regulatory noose against Chicago head shops in response to parental complaints about bongs, pipes and other drug paraphernalia being prominently displayed in store windows.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Tunney introduced an ordinance that would require licensed retail tobacco dealers to publicly disclose the “percentage of total shelf space” they anticipate using to display “tobacco accessories.” Those stores would also be required to disclose the “percentage of total sales” they expect to derive from selling those accessories.

No new retail tobacco dealer’s license or license renewal would be granted to an applicant who intends to sell or display tobacco accessories if the applicant has been “convicted, in custody, under parole or under any other non-custodial supervision” within the prior ten years for a felony drug crime, the ordinance states.

Armed with percentages on the amount of shelf space devoted to tobacco accessories, Tunney said  Chicago Police and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would be able to identify “for monitoring purposes and statistical analysis those licensees most likely to be in potential violation” of the Il. Drug Paraphernalia Control Act.

Tunney said he was forced into action after a “recent increase” in the number of head shops — stores offering items often used to consume marijuana — near Clark and Belmont.

“My office has received complaints from residents and neighboring businesses about the prevalence of these shops and the types of products they display in their windows,” Tunney was quoted as saying Friday in a statement released to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Currently, these head shops are licensed no differently than a convenience store that sells cigarettes, but their impact [on] a community can be very different….We need to understand the universe of tobacco accessory retailers and the impact they have on a retail community…This ordinance is a step in the right direction. It helps the city collect better data to assist our communities and will help the retailers avoid potential violations of state law.”

Two years ago, complaints about bongs and pipes in store windows prompted State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to charge three Lakeview head shops with the sale of drug paraphernalia, a Class 4 felony.

The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection made it a double-whammy by slapping the stores with hefty fines for selling unlicensed products bearing trademarked logos of the Cubs and other professional sports franchises.

On Friday, Tandra Simonton, a spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office, identified the stores as: Secrets, 3229 N. Clark; Pipes & Stuff, 3174 N. Clark and the Halsted Smoke Shop, 3448 N. Halsted.

The shops subsequently agreed to an 18-month “deferred prosecution plan” that called for them to remove bongs, pipes and other marijuana paraphernalia from their store windows.

“We entered into an agreement with them where they would reduce the number of items they sold in the store. It’s an 18-month, deferred prosecution plan that satisfied the residents, the police, our office and the city,” Simonton said.

Mika Stambaugh, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the department is on the same page as Tunney.

“We support the goals of the ordinance and are working with the alderman on the  proposed reporting requirements for retail tobacco dealers, such as being identified (flagged) as specializing in the sale of tobacco accessories,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As for the deferred prosecution agreement, Stambaugh said: “The  State’s Attorney’s office made the determination that the community would benefit from the businesses changing their practices regarding the sale of tobacco accessories and worked closely with Ald. Tunney’s office and [Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] to see these changes through. [The city’s] focus was to keep the business open while they made the changes to become a healthier establishment in the neighborhood.”

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