SOUTH JETTY Lawyers working for Port Aransas city government are researching whether the town can create ordinances that would prohibit stores from selling water pipes, or bongs, and other merchandise that could be considered drug paraphernalia.
The attorneys began looking into the question after some city council members expressed misgivings about a new Port Aransas store that sells bongs and many other items commonly seen in head shops.
The matter is scheduled to be addressed at the Port Aransas City Council meeting scheduled for today, Thursday, April 16. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. in council chambers at city hall, 710 W. Avenue A.
Shop owner Yehoram "Ronny" Maymon hasn't been charged with anything illegal. He said the water pipes he sells are intended for tobacco use only and that he isn't doing anything that violates state law. If it's legal to sell water pipes and similar merchandise elsewhere in Texas, he said, it should be legal in Port Aransas.
But Maymon said that if the city makes it illegal to sell certain materials, he will remove them and sell something else in the store; or, he said, he might open a store selling the same things in another town, where it's not illegal.
"Whatever the city decides, I'm going to say, 'Yes sir,' and go with the law," Maymon said. "I'm not a trouble maker."
Port Aransas Police Chief Scott Burroughs said his officers have visited Maymon's shop and found nothing illegal.
Burroughs said police cannot make the case that a water pipe is drug paraphernalia unless drug residue is found on it or in certain other circumstances. One circumstance would be if a person is arrested for possession of marijuana and a water pipe is found with the drug, he said.
Speaking generally, an object that arguably has a legitimate purpose, such as tobacco use, cannot automatically be labeled drug paraphernalia just because it also can be used for taking drugs too, Burroughs said.
Maymon's business opened March 15 at the new shopping center at the intersection of Cotter Avenue and Cut-off Road.
The shop's sign out front says "4:20," which for years has been used as a slang term in drug culture. According to Snopes.com, the expression "is used as a generic way of declaring one likes to use marijuana or just as a term for the substance itself."
The sign also says the shop is "for all your party needs. Bring all your friends, but don't tell your mamma!"
Councilman Keith McMullin said he asked Kovacs to have the city research whether there is any way, whether it's by ordinance or by city codes, that Port Aransas can make it illegal for businesses to erect signs promoting illegal drug use.
"What's really adding insult to injury is that (sign) is what greets you when you get off the ferry," said McMullin, who worries about the impression it will leave on tourists.
"We don't want that sort of thing for our own people, but it's especially bad for it to be the first thing people see when they get off the ferry."
The city attorney is looking into whether these kinds of signs can be prohibited, Kovacs said.
While "4:20" is painted bigger on the sign than any of the other text, Maymon said the name of the shop actually is "Moonlight" and that he is in the process of renaming it "Happy Days."
In any case, Maymon said on Monday, April 13, that he was planning on removing the sign soon, because he had heard that council members were concerned about it. Maymon said he didn't mean "4:20" to be a drug reference but had hoped it would tell potential shoppers "that it's a nice store, a cool store, a young store."
Councilman Charles Bujan also has raised objections to the shop's activities. He said he has received "a number of complaints" from citizens about the place.
"I'm not particularly against that shop," Bujan said. "I don't care what they sell, as long as they don't sell items prohibited by law. I'm very passionate about that. I see the effects with children. … I think it has to be stopped."
Bujan and McMullin say they are concerned about the store's sale of salvia. When inhaled, salvia - at least, certain kinds of salvia - can produce hallucinogenic effects.
Burroughs said the salvia sold at shops like Maymon's is pure sage, a plant that is not illegal.
The Web site of the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service says there are dozens of kinds of salvia.
The salvia sold at the shop comes in a package about the size of a matchbook. It's called "3rd Eye Salvia," and the label says it is not for consumption, that it's for incense purposes only and is not for sale to minors.
Maymon said he abides by the label and doesn't sell the substance to minors. (On a related note, Maymon said minors are not allowed inside his store unless they are accompanied by parents.)
Kovacs said city attorneys are checking into whether Port Aransas can make sales of salvia illegal by city ordinance.
The state also is working on legislation on the matter. The Legislature is considering a bill that would make sales of salvia illegal. Senate Bill 257 would make sales of salvia divinorum, Salvinorin A or a product containing it either to anyone under 18 a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500, according to news reports. The measure was introduced by State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who said the law would not make it illegal to grow yard shrubs known as salvia, reports said.