A bong display at Super Queen Market. Photo by Michael Kolberg.
While being able to pick up a bong at the same place you buy chips might be seen as a major convenience to some, there’s a group in Ontario that is asking that somebody, please, think of the children. The Ontario Safety League, a 100-year-old organization of “business and community leaders” that primarily advocates for traffic safety measures, has launched Not At My Store, a campaign and petition that asks signees to “to report on local convenience stores selling products designed to enable drug use.” OSL President Brian Patterson and his members feel that when bongs and pipes are displayed so close to milk, candy and magazines, it sends a message to kids that doing drugs is totally cool, man.
While selling drug paraphernalia is illegal, police admit that pipes and bongs can be used for tobacco as well as marijuana so there is not much they can do to keep convenience store owners from selling them. The OSL intends to crack down on their own. “The pipes, grinders and bongs found in corner stores are often decorated with marijuana leaves and are clearly intended for smoking illegal drugs, like hash, marijuana and crack cocaine,” reads a statement on the Not At My Store website. The petition calls on the public to report stores selling bongs directly to the OSL who will then file a “community complaint,” which sounds like it will be super effective.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association has come out in favour of Not At My Store, with CEO Dave Bryans saying in a release, “If the Ontario government were to choose to legislate against the sales of drug paraphernalia, we would be fully in support.” It’s worth noting that the OCSA, who represent about 7,500 of the province’s 10,000 convenience stores, has been lobbying the government for some time to allow their members to sell beer and wine, which are legal and socially acceptable drugs.
But not all convenience store operators agree. Sean Huh, 20, who works the counter at his family’s store Super Queen Market near Queen and Bathurst thinks the suggestion that bong displays are corrupting kids is a stupid argument. “It’s just like porn behind all these other magazines that these kids read,” says Huh. “That’s a stupid argument to me. The porn is covered up, but it’s right there. Everyone knows what it is.” Huh points out that operators are already prohibited from selling pipes or bongs to anyone under 18, and they regularly ask for ID.
Huh says he doesn’t really care either way, but suggests that instead of a hard ban on bong sales, a compromise could be reached with an arrangement similar to the cigarette display ban introduced in 2008. “It would be like cigarettes again, you cover it up. You don’t show it but if people ask about it, you show it to them.”
But Huh thinks that the OSL is unfairly blaming convenience stores for influencing behaviour. “If kids do buy (drug paraphernalia), it’s more a judgment of your character, how your parenting is.”
There’s a culture war a-brewin’ in Canada surrounding recreational drugs. When LPC leader Justin Trudeau came out in favour of legalizing weed last month, the Conservatives, smelling a wedge issue, responded harshly saying that his views on pot showed Trudeau lacked the judgement to be Prime Minister. “These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effect they have on users and on society,” reads a July 25 release. But Trudeau has stood by his position, launching a petition of his own this month calling for an end to marijuana prohibition, calling Harper’s “failed war on drugs… costly and unsafe.” It seems likely that the 2015 federal election will include a debate about whether certain drugs are harmful enough that they should remain illegal, or if that choice should be left to adults to make for themselves while taking the lucrative pot business away from gangs.
Wonder how Mayor Ford feels about this one.