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New Port Richey takes steps to outlaw drug paraphernalia

By Robert Napper, Times Correspondent

NEW PORT RICHEY — The city has taken the first step to outlaw the sale of drug paraphernalia in its downtown, and leaders hope to establish stricter rules citywide for businesses selling pipes and other gear that can be used to consume illegal drugs.

Banning drug paraphernalia in the city’s downtown zoning district is part of a wider ordinance the New Port Richey City Council passed on first reading Tuesday that also bans "nicotine dispensing device" businesses and call centers.

The move comes as council in recent years has wrestled with the types of businesses to allow in its downtown area, even enacting a moratorium for uses such as tattoo parlors and blood plasma centers. Smoke shops and call centers also made that list, but the ordinance initially approved Tuesday sets out a permanent ban for those two uses.

"As the City is working to create an economically vibrant and active Downtown, call centers and nicotine dispensing device businesses are inappropriate, due to their real or perceived blighting effect. Such uses tend to pay low wages, invest minimally in property, and generate undesirable loitering activity. They may degrade the appearance of businesses which can devalue property," City Development Director Lisa Fierce wrote in a memo to council.

The council’s passing of the first reading of the ordinance led members to discuss drug paraphernalia as a citywide problem. In the proposed ordinance banning it downtown, the city is using the state statute definition of paraphernalia which is a lengthy list that includes "metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes, with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls."

Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey called on staff to look at Pasco County’s drug paraphernalia ordinance as something he would like to see in the city. It was a proposal endorsed by New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart, who said he would also like to see the city mirror what the county has on the books. The council called on staff to bring forward such an ordinance for discussion.

Pasco’s drug paraphernalia ordinance grabbed headlines in September, as the Sheriff’s Office slapped two convenience stores with fines of $185,000 and $56,000 for violating its ordinance.

The Pasco ordinance mandates any businesses selling or displaying drug paraphernalia bar entry to anyone under the age of 18 unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Those businesses also must have signs posted outside prohibiting minors from entering without a parent or guardian. The lack of signs at the two stores led to the fines levied for each piece of paraphernalia found on display.

Pasco’s restrictions do not apply to businesses that already prohibit anyone under 18 inside or have paraphernalia in a separate room with a door and sign denying admittance to anyone under 18 without a parent or guardian. It is a measure Bogart praised saying it prevents paraphernalia from being the "first things kids see" when they walk into a store.