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Proposal Would Ban Products Used In Drug Sales, Distribution

Hartford Council Considers Ordinance Affecting Convenience Stores In City


December 27, 2010

City convenience stores would be prohibited from selling products commonly used in the distribution or sale of illegal drugs under a proposal being considered by the city council.

Councilman Luis Cotto has introduced an ordinance that would ban the stores from selling products such as scales, capsules, balloons, envelopes and plastic bags that are often used for packaging small quantities of illegal drugs.

It would also prohibit the sale of dilutants and adulterants, including mannitol, mannite, dextrose and lactose that are used for cutting illegal drugs.

Convenience stores such as those that are part of a gas station would be affected by the ordinance, Cotto said. Pharmacy stores like Walgreens and CVS would not.

Cotto said he and others have identified some problems with the language of the ordinance, which was referred to the council's quality of life and public safety committee. He said he intends to withdraw it and introduce an amendment to an existing ordinance that would have the same effect.

"Either way, the message would be that the city council is taking steps toward making the sale of these products illegal within the city," Cotto said. "A lot of gas stations in low-income areas sell this stuff and I've been wanting to do something about it for a while."

He said he will propose at the council's Jan. 10 meeting an amendment to the city's "extended hours" ordinance to include the ban of drug distribution products.

But organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut are concerned that the amended ordinance would violate the Constitution.

"Although the ordinance may be well intentioned, the government cannot ban legal objects that are used for expressive communication because a few people use the same legal items in the drug trade," said David McGuire, a staff attorney for the ACLU-CT. Items like balloons and envelopes could be used for expressive communication, he said.

The police department also had concerns.

Lt. Charles Cochran, commander of the vice and narcotics division, said he supports efforts to combat drug sale and use, but has issues with banning the sale of products that have legal purposes.

"The problem with the language is that the inference between the sale of a lawful product and the classification of the product as drug distribution equipment is very tenuous and I do not think it would stand up in court," Cochran said. "It seems to require a subjective determination be made about the buyer's intentions and the seller's knowledge of their intentions."

He suggested instead that convenience stores might keep the items behind the cash register, as is done with some cold medicines. Buyers would have to show identification to purchase the products.

"If we look at the successes that have been achieved in the reduction of methamphetamine simply from making it harder to obtain the base product from cold medicines," Cochran said, "we see that intervention methods like this can succeed."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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