A Year in Jail for an Empty Sandwich Bag?
To combat the rising numbers in drug use and in response to the anti-establishment "hippie" culture of the 1960's, in June of 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a "War on Drugs". Much to the dismay of the powers-that-were, the war on drugs actually caused drug use to increase. After eight years of this war, drug use had increased steadily until 1979, a period that many people believe saw drug use peak in the US, where approximately one in nine Americans were actively using illegal narcotics. In the same year, "head shops", places where one could buy drug paraphernalia, reached national sales figures of nearly $3 billion. A group called Families in Action began a campaign to shine a light on this industry and blamed the industry for glamorizing and even educating the American public on the use of drugs. After a successful public relations campaign, which saw several jurisdictions pass laws prohibiting the sale of drug paraphernalia (many of which were struck down by the courts for being overbroad and vague) Families in Action persuaded the White House to instruct the Drug Enforcement Agency to create a law targeting these businesses. Hence, the Model Drug Paraphernalia Act was created in 1979.
At the time (and even today), getting a politician to vote against or even speak negatively about legislation that punished drug users was difficult. No one wants to be the pro-drug candidate. Even then, the Model Drug Paraphernalia Act was not adopted federally, because too many normal household objects were considered drug paraphernalia. Have a pocket mirror? That could be used to snort cocaine. Same with drinking straws. Like to roll your own cigarettes? Those same papers are used to roll joints. And yes, sandwich bags can carry drugs in them.
As mentioned previously, the federal government did not adopt the act. However, nearly every state now has enacted some form of the MDPA. Most states have enacted the MDPA almost verbatim, which does prohibit the use of these common household items. Specific language from the legislation is as follows: "The term "drug paraphernalia" means any equipment, product, or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance..."
While people are not typically arrested for having an innocent sandwich bag with them, if that same bag is near someone's weed, that's another charge, which in Missouri can carry a sentence of up to one year in prison. This presents law enforcement with the chance to exponentially increase someone's charges, as people typically keep their drug related items in one place. The drugs are one charge, but the pipe, papers, grinder, and the bag they are kept in are all additional charges all punishable by up to a year in prison each.
The federal government did not stay out of the paraphernalia game for long though. In a few years, the feds enacted new legislation that made transporting drug paraphernalia by mail a crime. The most famous illustration of the nation's crackdown on drug paraphernalia was the case of Tommy Chong, where Chong was arrested for mailing pipes across the world. (For a thorough explanation of the case of Tommy Chong, check out the excellent documentary, a/k/a Tommy Chong).
If you have been arrested and/or charged with a crime in Branson, Nixa, Ozark, Springfield, Greene County, Christian County, Taney County, Stone County, or anywhere in the surrounding area of Southwest Missouri, please schedule a free consultation today by calling (417) 334-6316 or by clicking "Contact Us" above.