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Feds hit headshops and indict 55 pipe-sellers; Chong, Zong and Jerome Baker among targets.

by Mark Miller

WASHINGTON—Fifty-five people have been charged with conspiracy to sell drug paraphernalia following raids on pipe-selling businesses from Pennsylvania to California, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Acting DEA Administrator John B. Brown III announced on Monday, Feb. 24.

Among the targets were such glass-pipe giants as Jerome Baker Designs of Eugene, OR; the Zong bong and Seedless clothing companies in San Diego; Colorchangingglass.com, of Forestville, CA; and legendary pot comedian Tommy Chong, whose home was raided. Former HIGH TIMES staffer Randy Przekop, who now runs a headshop in Pittsburgh, was also indicted.

At a Justice Department press conference, Ashcroft stated that the indictments and raids are intended “to dismantle the illegal drug-paraphernalia industry by attacking their physical, financial, and Internet infrastructures.” The DEA and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, in conjunction with the US Marshals, Secret Service, Customs Service, and Postal Inspection Service, spearheaded the investigation. Six US attorneys were also involved.

Although the operations primarily targeted businesses involved in manufacturing, distribution, and Internet sales, that were, several headshops across the US were also raided Feb. 24, including in western Pennsylvania and Fort Worth, Texas. Tommy Chong was not named in the indictment, but his Chong Glass company in Los Angeles was raided by federal agents, DEA agents, local police, K-9 units and postal inspectors. The former Cheech and Chong member’s Pacific Palisades, CA home was also raided.

“The whole industry’s in turmoil,” said a worker at one of the stores busted. “The people who didn’t get popped are bugging out just as bad as the ones who did. They don’t know if they can continue doing business.”

The Feds said they confiscated thousands of items of paraphernalia (primarily for pot use) in the raids. This included both “user-specific” products (pipes, bongs, etc.) and “dealer-specific” items (scales, baggies, etc.) The defendants face up to three years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines, and forfeiture of warehouses, machinery, and other property.

Most of those charged were part of two separate coordinated operations. A federal grand jury in western Pennsylvania indicted 27 people as part of “Operation Pipe Dreams,” an investigation reaching from Pittsburgh to Phoenix to Southern California. The name was taken from the “G. W. Pipedreams” store in Clarion, PA, owned by the indicted Glen W. Beers.

In Des Moines, Iowa, another nine individuals were indicted under “Operation Headhunter,” which involved paraphernalia marketed nationwide by distributors in Michigan, California, and Texas. The other 19 indictments were handed out in various other states, including Texas and Idaho.

The Feds are also in the process of obtaining court orders to shut down 11 Internet sites that sell paraphernalia, with visitors to those Websites redirected to a DEA site that cites the law against sale of such items. The sites targeted for elimination include ghettoweb.com, which features the renowned Jerome Baker Design glass pipes. (The ghettoweb.com site was inaccessible on the evening of Feb. 24).

“People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different than drug dealers,” DEA head Brown told the press conference. “They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide.” He added flippantly, “With Operations Pipe Dreams and Headhunter, these criminals are out of business, and 11 illicit dot.coms are dot.gone.”

While it is obvious to almost everyone involved that the explosion in glass-pipe sales in the last few years has come from pot-smokers, it is impossible for the law to tell the purpose of an inanimate object, what makes a piece of glass a legal “waterpipe” or a forbidden “bong.” Instead, the law defines “drug paraphernalia” as anything which the seller knows will be used to consume drugs. In response, most headshops, even those selling pot-leaf T-shirts and Cypress Hill posters, will have a sign warning that “all smoking accessories are intended for tobacco use only,” and words like “hash pipe” are as verboten as “sinsemilla” would be in a hydroponic-gardening shop. One of the stores raided gave away a bag of tobacco with every pipe purchased.

Ashcroft said the sale of drug paraphernalia has exploded on the Internet, making it easier for “teenagers and young adults” to buy it. The items, he said, are often disguised as innocuous items such as lipstick cases and felt-tip markers to escape detection, and are marketed under “code names and symbols.”

“Quite simply, the illegal drug-paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge,” he claimed.

Despite the fact the vast majority of paraphernalia users are adults (just as the vast majority of drug users are adults); the Feds repeatedly emphasized the need to protect children in conducting these operations.

“Today’s actions send a clear and unambiguous message to those who would poison our children,” White House Drug Czar John P. Walters said in a statement. “We will bring you to justice, and we will act decisively to protect our young people from the harms of illegal drugs.”

Among those not accepting the government’s logic is Keith Stroup of NORML, who told the Associated Press, “At a time when the rest of the country is worried about terrorism, the attorney general is going after people who sell pipes. Surely he has something better to do with his time.”

Meanwhile, pot-smokers around the country are practicing punching holes in soda cans and carving bowls out of apples.