Big bong battle | December 16, 2011 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - December 16, 2011

Big bong battle

A tale of two cities: City of Pleasanton vs. Cigarette City

by Glenn Wohltmann

Walk into any convenience store, and you'll probably find drug paraphernalia behind the counter in the form of rolling papers and cigar wrappers, more commonly known as "blunt" wrappers.

But a battle is brewing between Cigarette City and Pleasanton officials about bongs, glass pipes ostensibly used for tobacco but more often used to smoke marijuana.

Walid Akbarzadeh owns and runs Cigarette City. He was told last week by Pleasanton police to take bongs off his shelves and to stop selling them.

"They're like, 'No, that's illegal,'" Akbarzadeh said. "Why did it take two years to come out and say it's illegal?"

He said he included in his business license application to Pleasanton that he intended to sell pipes.

When he opened, Akbarzadeh said police officers told him, "Just keep minors out."

"That was their only concern," he said.

He points to city municipal code that specifically allows the sale of drug paraphernalia, as long as it's "in a separate room or enclosure to which minors not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian are excluded."

Akbarzadeh said he's been told all along -- up until recently, anyway -- that his shop was legal.

Both those things are true, said Larissa Seto, assistant city attorney. But, she said, state health and safety law trumps city codes.

"The provisions in municipal codes have been superceded by the California Health and Safety Code, making trafficking in drug paraphernalia (including both possession and sales) a misdemeanor," Seto said. "Because the city has never had a business seeking to sell drug paraphernalia, the city has never removed these provisions from municipal code."

She agreed the city's code enforcer did tell Akbarzadeh his shop was legal.

"Our code enforcement officer, when he reviewed municipal code, had the same misconception that had Mr. Akbarzadeh. We corrected that. ... He's only allowed to operate as a tobacco shop, selling cigarettes, tobacco pipes and the types of things he listed in his business application," Seto said.

Akbarzadeh, however, maintains that bongs are not drug paraphernalia until someone uses them for something other than tobacco. He estimated that he'd sold 200 bongs, which he calls glass, since he opened almost two years ago.

He said the city has told him his store has been morphing into a head shop -- the kind of place that caters exclusively to drug clientele. Seto agreed.

"His business, I would describe it as 'evolved.' When it first went in it had a lot more of the merchandise that he indicated he'd be selling," Seto said, adding that meant tobacco products. "It has evolved into the selling of drug paraphernalia. Now that the merchandise has changed, a lot of it is listed in California Health and Safety Code as being illegal."

Akbarzadeh, though, said he's been selling bongs since the day the store opened, although he said he added stock and put more of them on display.

Referring to the visit by the code enforcement officer, Akbarzadeh said he felt like he was being targeted by city officials.

"He comes back two weeks later saying, 'We've got some complaints about your store. We're going to have to see if you're breaking any city codes,'" Akbarzadeh said.

He added he'd even been told by two police officers, whom he identified, that his store was legal, although Seto said, "He hasn't been able to tell us which officers said that."

"He is selling bongs, air-driven pipes, is selling scales and containers that have marijuana leaves all over them and he is selling different kinds of chamber pipes, carburetor pipes," Seto said. "If he were just selling loose-leaf tobacco, the papers to roll tobacco cigarettes -- these things are allowed to be sold in tobacco shops. But he is selling scales and small types of Baggies that are listed in the state law as drug paraphernalia."

Seto said the city is hoping for voluntary compliance, but added, "If he's unable to do that, we're going to have to bring an enforcement action."

That could mean a misdemeanor conviction, although Akbarzadeh has taken every questionable item off the shelves while the fight continues.

Part of the problem is likely to do with complaints. While Seto couldn't say how many the city had received -- more than 10, she allowed -- she said those complaints have come from all quarters.

"Parents of school-age children, residents in the area and then business owners in the area (all have contacted the city to ask that something be done)," she said.

It probably doesn't help that the store is just a few blocks from Village, the school district's continuation high school. On any given afternoon, students from Village are among those who frequent the store, although Akbarzadeh said he's always careful to ask for identification from even those who have become regulars.

"There's customers we know are 18, but (I say) let me see some ID," he said. "There a lot of 18-, 19-, 20-year olds, they come in here every day, but I still want to see if they have it on them," Akbarzadeh said, explaining that some police officers have stopped his clients with cigarettes and checked their IDs.

Akbarzadeh said there are a lot of things that could be done without targeting his business, which, he said, has brought in $50,000 in sales tax during the 21 months it's been open.

"If (police are) trying to protect the community, they need to go after drug dealers," he said. "Parents who are worried that this shop is here, talk to your kids, try to tell them about drugs, advise them about the dangers of drugs. If my brother gets drunk, I'm not going to go after shops that sell alcohol."

Akbarzadeh said some police officers have been slandering him, saying that his store sells drugs. He said he's ready to fight the city, either for the right to bring bongs back, or to get compensated for the investment he made before the city decided to crack down.

He said that Dublin and Livermore have similar shops; San Ramon has one as well, and others are in operation across Alameda County.

If Akbarzadeh decides to ask for the right to bear bongs, state code spells out exactly what kind of evidence would be presented on both sides.

It reads: "In determining whether an object is drug paraphernalia, a court or other authority may consider, in addition to all other logically relevant factors, the following:

(1) Statements by an owner or by anyone in control of the object concerning its use.

(2) Instructions, oral or written, provided with the object concerning its use for ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing a controlled substance into the human body.

(3) Descriptive materials accompanying the object which explain or depict its use.

(4) National and local advertising concerning its use.

(5) The manner in which the object is displayed for sale.

(6) Whether the owner, or anyone in control of the object, is a legitimate supplier of like or related items to the community, such as a licensed distributor or dealer of tobacco products.

(7) Expert testimony concerning its use.


Posted by Sammy, a resident of Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Wow. They have pumped $50,000 in sales tax revenue in the city, which probably paid that idiot code enforcers salary for the year. So the city is going to lose a significant amount of sales tax money. Plus if the owner brings the lawsuit they are going to spend more tax money fighting something that i believe is totally legal to sell.

These city officials are way wrong and way out of touch

Posted by Tom, a resident of Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I don't believe that sales tax number. How can this small shop bring $50,000 in sales tax revenue to the city if a gigantic Home Depot only brings only $140,000 to the city?

Regardless, selling illegal drug-related items are prohibited by the State, regardless of how many sales dollars it brings to a municipality.

The fact is that the State's Health and Safety Code prohibits certain drug related items to be sold and this store is violating the law. Also, it is within 1000 feet of a school site, isn't it?

Isn't this where the stabbing occurred recently as well? How much law enforcement time and court time has been spent on that and how much has this cost the taxpayers?

Posted by Don, a resident of Foothill Farms
on Dec 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm

To Tom:

The stabbing was actually near Village High and it was totally unrelated to the shop. The State has basically made pot legal. Heck I have been stopped and let go by Pleasanton PD even though I had a little pot and a pipe on me and no I am not Prop 215 patient.

"Regardless, selling illegal drug-related items are prohibited by the State, regardless of how many sales dollars it brings to a municipality." Explain it to me then why is there more then 1000 head shops, that sell no tobacco, throughout the state?

P.S. Pleasanton is not a small town anymore. Stop butting in everybody's business

Posted by Mitch, a resident of Dublin
on Dec 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm

"She agreed the city's code enforcer did tell Akbarzadeh his shop was legal. 'Our code enforcement officer, when he reviewed municipal code, had the same misconception that had Mr. Akbarzadeh. We corrected that'. ...

And exactly did you "corrected" it Ms. Seto? By forcing your will on them thats how. Businesses should not suffer because of careless and incompetent city officials.

Posted by SantaMonicaSteve, a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Like it or not, Pleasanton is a repressive, provincial town. It's a Bay Area community with Alabama sensibilities. No wonder nothing creative or original comes out of P-town, the people are too close-minded. A wonderful sea of strip malls and tract homes. Mediocre food and culture. No Silicon Valley or Napa Valley here. We're more Bakersfield than Palo Alto. Glad I left (grew up in Pleasanton) but I do enjoy catching up.

Posted by Johnny T, a resident of Livermore
on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Pleasanton is pathetic. How is this going to make a difference in the "war against drugs". Its glass for God sake

Posted by Right on!, a resident of Country Fair
on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm

You guys are right; this is a pathetic, repressive, provincial town. Just a bunch of busy-bodies. Let's move away immediately!

Posted by Steve, a resident of Parkside
on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm

For those of you dissing Pleasanton because their law enforcement procedures don't mesh with your 'lifestyle', stay the hell out of the city limits. If things are that terrible here that you can't get high when and how you want, you need to move to Amsterdam.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Downtown
on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Seems like someone is posting over and over again with a lot of anger here. Whoever it is seems to not have mastered the use of use apostrophe. The angry owner perhaps?

Sounds like from the article the owner started selling items and a legal business became illegal because it started selling items it never disclosed to the city it would sell. Those items it is selling seem to be prohibited from being sold by State law according to the article.

By the way, the voters of the State of California voted not to legalize cannabis in a recent election. Even if they did, cannabis is illegal according to Federal law.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Del Prado
on Dec 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Bongs and glass pipes are not illegal to sell or possess.

Glass pipes only become illegal when you smoke a controlled subsubstance like meth or cocaine and you have probalbe cause to believe the person had knowledge and possession of its use.
(11364 H&S)

Bongs and other items to smoke weed are not illegal to possess even if it has marijuana residue.

Posted by middleton, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Pleasanton has become a metropolitan city (albeit a small metropolitan city). The bong is part of its growing pains. If you lived in Pleasanton let's say 15 years ago, you'll be hard pressed to recognize it as the same town in more ways than one.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:56 pm

some folks scrape their pipes for residue...BOINK!

Posted by Chris, a resident of Castlewood
on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:03 am

I visit this store weekly!! Walid is professional and courteous. I have seen other patrons from time to time, all appear to be well into their 20's and above and most are purchasing cigarettes. It sounds like the city is on a witch hunt, yet again. Heaven forbid that Pleasanton doesn't fulfill it's image as whitebreadupperincomeconservative town. While there seems to be concern about "drug paraphenalia" check out the Pleasanton police report for the number of people that are arrested for being drunk in this lovely town. Perhaps we should regulate how many bars there are instead.

Posted by Was there, a resident of Downtown
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm

"He added he'd even been told by two police officers, whom he identified, that his store was legal, although Seto said, "He hasn't been able to tell us which officers said that."

I was in the shop getting smokes when the TWO COPS were there! Walids brother was working. The COPS had sheets covering the counter cases. The COPS were quite intimidating to say the least. They were arguing with Walids brother, an employee who was totally compliant in nature.

They were ranting about a box with a marijuana leaf on it.Shirts at Wallmart have marijuana leafs on them for god's sakes. These two "officers" were conducting themselves like they were in a court room, cross examining a witness.

What a shame that these honest and hard working people are being subjected to this trivial nonsence.

Posted by Timothy T, a resident of Downtown
on Dec 17, 2011 at 8:26 am

Did you know that a speeding ticket costs more than a marijuana possession ticket? Hey everyone! Let's remove all the car dealers in town!!

This is actually indicative of how it is to have a business in Pleasanton in general. Mostly hostile, subject to the whims of anyone in or around City Hall, and generally tough to do. It's the major reason why I am starting a new business (a restaurant), in Livermore and not Pleasanton.

Unless you're a bank or a nail salon. Then you're set.

Posted by Mary Jo, a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on Dec 19, 2011 at 1:05 am

I too frequent this establishment and I have found this family to be honest, hard working and very accommodating to all of their customers. It is a shame that they are being treated unfairly. Hopefully all of this will be worked out. They should not be held accountable for what their customers buy.

Posted by brett, a resident of Downtown
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

Thats Bull. Just Plain Crap. People need to begin seeing the world the way it is. Everyone smokes these days.

Posted by Rick, a resident of Castlewood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

They always ask for I.D.

Posted by Sarah, a resident of Parkside
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

To steve from parkside your a nimrod.

Posted by Rachael, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Cigarette City deserves to be there. They bring in plenty of tax revenues. They always ask for I.D. How many people can be pricks these days. Honestly its the new generation. Bringing back the 60's. Let cigarette city be. They did nothing wrong.

Posted by Grant, a resident of Birdland
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Can anyone give proof to why cigarette city should shouldnt be allowed to sell bongs, pipes, etc?

Posted by Ceasar, a resident of Birdland
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I'm going on strike if they can't sell bongs in the next 2 weeks. Who is with me? Its just absolutely ridiculous.

Posted by Michelle, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Ya Shut Em Down.

Posted by Terrance, a resident of Ruby Hill
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Let them be. They did nothing wrong.

Posted by Sandi, a resident of Birdland
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

People really need to get over what they think is happening. Let them run their damn business.