Carrie Rengers

Wichita cracks down on drug paraphernalia sales at local businesses

42 Below on East Douglas is closing due to the city’s renewed enforcement of drug paraphernalia laws.
42 Below on East Douglas is closing due to the city’s renewed enforcement of drug paraphernalia laws. The Wichita Eagle

Some community complaints to the Patrol North bureau of the Wichita Police Department have led to a crackdown on drug paraphernalia at Wichita businesses.

“We’ve been through this before,” says Capt. Kevin Mears.

In 2008, the state passed a law against selling products designed to use illegal drugs. The city has a law as well.

Around 2010, there was a similar sweep of businesses to eliminate the products.

“Everybody complied at that point,” Mears says.

Many new vape shops now sell the products, though, along with convenience stores and other businesses.

“As far as we knew, it was OK to have a tobacco accessory shop in Kansas,” says Jeremiah Wilson of 42 Below, a smoke shop on East Douglas just east of Washington. “We’re just shocked.”

What products are used for is an area of particular debate.

“If it’s an honest-to-goodness tobacco use, OK,” Mears says.

It comes down to intention, says Matthew Powell, who owns four Lucky’s Vape & Smoke shops, and he says that’s a tricky line.

“Everything is sold for intended legal purposes,” he says of his shops.

Powell says, though, that about 10 percent of his income is related to products that the state and city likely would deem illegal.

“My lawyer instructed me to fight the case,” Powell says.

He says he decided to comply, though, instead of risking getting his employees in any legal trouble.

“They don’t need to go to jail.”

Powell says businesses are being notified one by one and given seven days to stop selling the products. He says his seven days are up.

“There’s products in my store that are still semi-debatable,” Powell says. “I didn’t even know what to remove and what not to remove.”

Since he planned to fight to keep the products and only decided to comply at the last minute, Powell says he didn’t have a sale to get rid of his questionable inventory.

“We have no idea what to do with it.”

Wilson is having a major sale and plans to close his 42 Below after his seven days are up on Tuesday.

“This is not really what we’re looking forward to doing,” he says.

Nor is it what the city wants, Mears says.

“We are not trying to shut any businesses down in the city of Wichita,” he says.

“What we are trying to do is get them to comply with state and city law,” Mears says. “We always want to make sure that we are educating the public first.”

If businesses don’t comply, Mears says police will seize the paraphernalia, and store owners will face fines or jail times.

The city is distributing fliers with what is and isn’t allowed to be sold at businesses.

“If they have questions about the law, they need to speak with their attorneys,” Mears says.

“That’s all they need to do. We don’t want anybody to close.”

Mears has a theory on why there may be so much paraphernalia right now.

“Because of Colorado legalizing marijuana, because of California and some other states legalizing it, or the medical aspects … we have seen an increase of illegal marijuana coming over here,” he says.

Mears says some businesses found new sales by providing the products to use the marijuana.

“I think it does have a little to do with that possibly.”

Powell says his lawyer “instructed me that (any seizure) was unconstitutional as long as I was selling everything for legal purposes.”

He says he’s already going to lose 10 percent of his income – and possibly some employees as a result – and didn’t want to risk the rest.

“I decided to go ahead and play it safe and pack it all up,” Powell says.

He may not be entirely giving up the fight, though.

“I asked my lawyer if we could fight the case from the sidelines, so to speak,” Powell says.

He says if other similar businesses are interested in sharing legal fees, he’d be interested in pursuing a change in the law.

Wilson, too, considered a legal battle.

“Personally, we don’t think we can win.”

Wilson says he’s not comfortable staying open.

“I’m just nervous.”

Though he’s sad about closing, Wilson says, “If the authorities in this community don’t want us here, we are OK with leaving.”