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Up in Smoke: Feds Bust Online Head Shops

Operators of Web sites selling drug paraphernalia were among the 55 individuals and businesses indicted Monday in a nationwide investigation known as "Operation Pipe Dreams." The defendants are charged with conspiracy to sell, and offering to sell, various types of drug paraphernalia, a federal offense carrying a maximum jail sentence of three years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Federal law defines drug paraphernalia as products primarily intended or designed to be used in ingesting, inhaling or otherwise using controlled substances, and include user-friendly and dealer-friendly devices. Items such as miniature scales, substances for "cutting" or diluting raw narcotics, bongs, marijuana pipes, "roach" clips, miniature spoons and cocaine freebase kits, among other things, are all considered drug paraphernalia.

All the defendants are alleged to have knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully sold the items for use with illegal narcotics. Many of the items were disguised as common objects such as highlighter markers and lipsticks to elude detection as drug paraphernalia and were marketed using code names and symbols.

Web sites named in the indictments include pipesforyou.com, colorchangingglass.com, puffpipes.com, aheadcase.com, omnilounge.com, 420now.com, Gothicdungeon.com, Testingfree.com, Themallusa.com, and Pipesforyou.com.

"With the advent of the Internet, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has exploded," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a Washington press conference announcing the indictments. "The drug paraphernalia business is now accessible in anyone's home with a computer and Internet access. And in homes across America we know that children and young adults are the fastest growing Internet users."

Ashcroft added, "The illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge. This illegal billion-dollar industry will no longer be ignored by law enforcement. Today, (the government) has taken decisive steps to dismantle the illegal drug paraphernalia industry by attacking their physical, financial and Internet infrastructures."

John Brown, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said people selling drug paraphernalia over the Internet were no different than drug dealers.

"They are as much a part of drug trafficking, as silencers are a part of criminal homicide. These criminals operate a multimillion-dollar enterprise, selling their paraphernalia in headshops, distributing out of huge warehouses, and using the worldwide web as a worldwide paraphernalia market," Brown said. "With Operations Pipe Dreams, these criminals are out of business, and 11 illicit dot.coms are dot.gone."