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Operation Pipe Dreams Is a Nightmare

People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different than drug dealers. They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide.
--John Brown, acting DEA chief

I'd like to direct Mr. Brown to the Web site of of Aloha, Oregon. Not only will they sell me a gun silencer, there is an entire page devoted to explicit directions on how to obtain the necessary paperwork and background check in order to allow me to purchase a silencer online. I have to be at least 21 and innocent of any felony crime. One credit card payment and a little paperwork and I can blow someone's head off with a minimum of personal hearing damage.

Of course John Brown, of the Drug Enforcement Agency, has little interest in guns and murder outside of the world of drug dealing. In the last couple of days, however, he has overseen the arrest of at least 55 people whose only stated crime was the manufacture and selling of tobacco accessories. His equation of bong-makers with drug traffickers is ludicrous at best, and his apparent indifference to the legal sale of silencers across America makes him a hypocrite caught in his own words.

This action, known as Operation Pipe Dreams, is part of a continuing effort on the the part of Attorney General John Ashcroft to rid our land of the ability to smoke weed with a little style. In the past 10 years the pipemaking industry took an art class and began to integrate aesthetics into the production line. Handblown glass pipes began as a one-of-a-kind art form created usually by twentysomethings with talent and time on their hands. Over the years pipes became amazingly elaborate, with high-end waterpipes evolving into colorful gothic cathedrals. Simple $20 spoon-shaped pocket handpipes became the common smoking apparatus of choice, replacing decades of utilitarian metal and acrylic.

However, the powers-that-be want a return to the paraphernalia stone age. If the DEA has its way, that loathsome scum of an American subculture who still dare to believe that smoking various herbal substances is their own damned business will be forced back into stealing plumbing screens from their faucets and emptying out plastic honey bears in order to fashion crude waterpipes a la Brad Pitt in the movie "True Romance." Pepsi cans and beer bottles will be pulled out of trashcans, aquarium tubing will be purchased at Wal-Mart, and lamp parts from Home Depot will turn into pipe bowls for the waterpipes that will be Rube Goldberged into existence.

Americans have been given the distinct impression that our federal budget is strapped for cash and that we need all resources to ferret out the terrorists in our midst. It seems a waste of resources to carry out Operation Pipe Dreams in order to ensure that 55 pipesellers will no longer be on the streets while terrorist cells await their orders in the heartland of America. Doesn't Ashcroft have better things to do? What about those darned silencers all over the internet?

In the meantime, lives are being ruined. Many if not most paraphernalia dealers are under 40 years old and guiltier of being young and naïve than of being dangerous. If forfeiture occurs there may not be enough money for their families to hire top-notch lawyers. In a recent conviction Chris Hill of Chills Pipes was sentenced to one year at the Eglin prison facility, and Hill was one of the wealthier pipe manufacturers in the U.S. Pipe dealers have not made their profits from stealing or acts of violence. It is an odd choice on the part of the U.S. government to convict young entrepenuers and house them in prisons at great taxpayer expense.

Over at there's a virtual cornucopia of submachine guns, some with silencers, some without. There's an HK MP5 A3 machine gun transferable 9mm in excellent condition on sale for $8,800. Oh darn, it's got a "Sold" sign by the price. The top of the page states: "Machine guns are a specialty here at Impact. They are very easy to purchase and are a great investment."

If only our forefathers had the insight to put in an amendment for smoking accessories right there with the right to bear arms. Maybe then John Ashcroft and his DEA buddies could just sit around the fire with Tommy Chong and the other paraphernalia company owners, and their only pipe dreams would be world peace.

Debra McCorkle is a shopowner living in the mountains of North Carolina.

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