Drug warriors like to boast that are busting drug kingpins. If only it were true.

Most people are arrested for pot are charged with simple possession.  Lately, however, even simple possession cases have become the big busts, as cops now go after paraphernalia.

In a sad development, the D.C. Court of Appeals recently upheld the drug paraphernalia conviction of a gas station cashier for selling a “glass ink pen” to an undercover cop.
See, Fatumabahirtu v. United States (D.C. Court of Appeals 2011).

This unfortunate woman, a recent immigrant, in the country less than a year, was working one day a-week at a gas station mini-mart. The mini-mart sold glass “pens,” which the government claims are used for smoking crack. MPD sent in an undercover cop who asked for a “pen.” When he got a short glass one with no ink, he signaled the arrest team. Both the Clerk and the mini-mart owner were convicted by a judge after trial.

In affirming the Clerk conviction, the Court of Appeals found “that she either knew, or reasonably should have known, that the purchase [of the ink pen] was for the purpose of taking illegal drugs.”


The clerk didn’t decide what the mini-mart sold. Like most people working at a gas station, she was probably happy to get through her shift without getting robbed or shot.

Enter the D.C. Vice Squad, which assembled a team of seasoned “detectives, arrest teams, and paraphernalia experts” to target mini-mart clerks. What happened to the kingpins and international drug cartels?

With crime down nationwide, cops are left scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep their arrest numbers up. In this case, the “kingpin” was a woman working at mini-mart selling do-dads. No drugs were involved.

What’s next, lighters? (used to smoke drugs) Air fresheners? (to mask the odor) Baking soda? (used to cook crack). Should every clerk know that these products are drug related? Can a clerk decide which products to sell?

“Can I have that thing there”?
“Sorry Sir, no”
“What do you mean, no?”
“Sir, I’ve decided not to sell that thing.”
“But it’s ‘for sale’. It has a price tag on it.”
“Yes Sir, it’s ‘for sale,’ but in this store, each clerk decides for herself whether she feels comfortable selling something. If it doesn’t feel right, I don’t sell it. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow someone else will be in. She has different rules.”
“This is unbelievable. I’m outta here”
“Wait, Sir, you forgot your coffee.”
“I’ll be back for it tomorrow when the regular girl is in.”
“Sir, you better take your coffee now. The regular girl won’t sell you coffee. She has decided against it.”

And so, another big victory in the war on drugs.

The clerk’s future is tainted by a criminal conviction. A squad of experienced detectives is taken off real crime, to target harmless people. A ton of taxpayer money is spent arresting, prosecuting and punishing working people, whose jobs are difficult enough, without having to scrutinize their boss’ inventory choices.

This is the real war on drugs. Harmless people scooped up and prosecuted. No kingpins, and in fact, not even any drugs.

Categories: arrest, paraphernalia


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