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Wendy Reuer, Published December 27 2011

Clay County adopts paraphernalia ban similar to Moorhead's

MOORHEAD – Clay County commissioners unanimously approved a drug paraphernalia ban Tuesday similar to a controversial ordinance passed in Moorhead last month.

Unlike the Moorhead ban, the county ban is effective immediately. The Moorhead ordinance is scheduled to take effect Jan. 11, Police Chief David Ebinger said. The city requires the ordinance be published 30 days before it can be enacted.

The ordinances make possession of drug paraphernalia a petty misdemeanor and selling items a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The county ordinance will only affect unincorporated areas. Cities must pass individual ordinances. Dilworth City Administrator Ken Parke said the city council may consider a similar ordinance in January.

Acting County Attorney Michelle Lawson said Tuesday that the county ordinance is identical to Moorhead’s, but with an addendum that states items for sale or on display believed to be in violation of the law are forfeited. Also, unlike state law, items will not have to test positive for drug residue to be considered drug paraphernalia, she said.

It will be left to the discretion of law enforcement to decide if items are used primarily for drug use.

On Tuesday, Clay County Sheriff Lt. Steve Landsem showed county commissioners glass pipes with mushrooms or the date 4/20 details. He also presented a gas mask attached to a large clear glass pipe. Landsem said such items would be banned under the ordinance.

“It’s obviously marketed for (drug) use,” Landsem said.

Lawson called the ordinance a pre-emptive strike against any businesses looking to start in the county or relocate from Moorhead. Currently, there are no businesses in the unincorporated areas affected.

There was no public comment made at Tuesday’s county meeting regarding the ordinance.

As Moorhead’s effective date moves closer, Ebinger said Moorhead investigators have been working with business owners to explain what items law enforcement will consider paraphernalia under the city ordinance.

“What we’re recommending is they get the items off the shelves and no longer sell them,” Ebinger said. “We’ll follow up with correspondence prior to the activation date of the ordinance just recapping the contact we’ve had with them.”

Ebinger said some of the items currently in stores that are marketed for tobacco use are clearly used for that purpose and will not fall under the ban.

“None of this is intended to outlaw the sale of legit tobacco products,” Landsem said.

Some Moorhead smoke shop owners claim the ban will force them out of business. Others say the ban is unenforceable as it leaves the items intended use up for interpretation.

“I think it was just smoke and mirrors,” Lawson said of the enforceability argument. “There is absolutely nothing unenforceable in this ordinance.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530