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City Council tightens reins on head shops

Chicago head shops face strict new reporting requirements, under a crackdown approved by the City Council Wednesday in response to a parental outcry about bongs, pipes, rolling papers on the like being displayed with impunity in store windows.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he’s been inundated with complaints from residents and adjacent retailers in his North Side ward about a troubling proliferation of head shops on Clark and Halsted streets and Belmont Avenue.

“People feel that there’s potential drug activity happening at these [head shops] and the sale and such…. It’s really been a nuisance to the residents and the neighboring business — like Mia Francesca’s next to a bong shop,” Tunney told his colleagues last week.

“It’s really been a three- or four-year phenomenon. And when you have 10 of them in a two-block radius, there is a general perception [of drug activity]. The proliferation and the fact they’re stacked up side-by-side….We’ve heard from business and the chambers [of commerce] that this is putting a damper on retail activity in the neighborhood. Like, `I don’t want to be next to one of these things.’ “

The Tunney-sponsored ordinance would require licensed retail tobacco dealers to publicly disclose the “percentage of total shelf space” they anticipate using to display “tobacco accessories.” Those stores also are now 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 will be granted to an applicant who has been convicted, in custody, under parole or under any other non-custodial supervision within the prior five 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 potential violations of the Illinois Drug Paraphernalia Control Act.

“This is not telling them what they can and can’t do. This is just a reporting mechanism and, hopefully, will give us better data in order for BACP and law enforcement to know what the heck is going on there,” Tunney said.

During a committee meeting last week, Tunney offered his colleagues a show-and-tell of the drug paraphernalia being sold at North Side head shops.

After looking at the array of pipes, bongs, rolling papers and breathing masks, West Side Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) was shocked.

“This is kind of scary. I know we’re dealing with a society that says they’re grown. They can do whatever they want to do and all of that. But we’re dealing with a group of young folks who are growing up and are highly influenced by this kind of stuff and we seem to be moving more and more in our society [towards] this free-will living kind of stuff,” Graham said.

“With our new findings as well with the e-cigarettes — if the stuff leaks out of the equipment that it could cause heart attacks and different things like that — there’s a real concern.”

Two years ago, complaints about bongs and pipes in store windows prompted State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to charge three Lake View 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.

The stores were identified as: Secrets, 3229 N. Clark St.; Pipes & Stuff, 3174 N. Clark St.; and the Halsted Smoke Shop, 3448 N. Halsted St.

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.