Patrick Springer, Published November 13 2011
Moorhead City Council takes up drug paraphernalia ban tonight
- What: Moorhead City Council meeting to discuss proposed drug paraphernalia ordinance
- When: 5:35 tonight
- Where: City Council Chambers, first floor, Moorhead City Hall, 500 Center Ave.
MOORHEAD – The impassioned debate over an ordinance to ban the sale of drug paraphernalia here will have its second round tonight before the City Council.
The proposed ordinance, which passed its first reading 6-1 in July, will have its second reading before a divided council. If approved after the second reading, the ordinance would become law – and likely face a court challenge from shop owners.
The measure has been hotly opposed by four smoke shops that sell water pipes and other devices that law enforcement officers complain can be used to smoke marijuana and other illegal drugs.
Council member Mark Altenburg said Sunday that he plans, after the paraphernalia ordinance vote, to present a memo briefing members on how other Minnesota cities have addressed the issue through zoning and licensing restrictions rather than a ban.
The proposed ordinance’s second reading was delayed for three months to allow Altenburg time to explore a compromise to avoid costly litigation.
Although Altenburg first favored the ban, he now believes the approach is flawed and would merely get the city bogged down in protracted legal disputes.
The problem, in his view: Banning any device labeled drug paraphernalia that also has a legitimate “dual use,” such as smoking tobacco or herbs, could be challenged in court under Minnesota law.
“It’s bad law and shouldn’t be before the Moorhead City Council,” Altenburg said Sunday.
To avoid that pitfall, Altenburg said, cities and municipalities in Minnesota, including Northfield, have turned to zoning and licensing laws to restrict smoke shops.
Tom Tepley, owner of Discontent near Eight Street and Main Avenue, has said he and other owners of smoke shops are open to discussing the zoning approach.
Tepley, an outspoken adversary of the ban ordinance, has joined with a co-owner of Mothers Music near Fourth Street and Main Avenue to form F-M Freedom Fighters, a group opposing the ban.
F-M Freedom Fighters is collecting petition signatures to present to the City Council in an attempt to stop the ordinance.
Although skeptical of the viability of a local ban, given Minnesota state law, Altenburg favors imposing restrictions on so-called “head shops,” which cater to users of illegal drugs.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to keep our kids off drugs,” he said. “We’ve got to set a community standard.”
Brenda Elmer, a Moorhead City Council member who voted in favor of the ban at the ordinance’s first reading, said her constituents are concerned about the concentration of smoke shops along Main Avenue in downtown.
“They favor the concept of tightening up restrictions on smoke shops,” she said. “They don’t want the status quo, is what I’ve heard overwhelmingly.”
If a majority of council members vote to pass the ban ordinance, “I can live with that,” Altenburg said. Ideally, he added, the Minnesota Legislature will address the issue.
One thing is likely: The City Council Chambers will be packed with residents who have strong opinions for or against the ordinance, Altenburg said.
“No signs, no applause; be responsible,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522