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Differentiating vape store from ‘head shop’: Council looking at allowing sale of glass pipes

By Dan Miller, danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 3/15/17

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

Borough council approved for advertisement changes to a borough ordinance intended to help “vape” shops stay in business in Middletown at its …

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Differentiating vape store from ‘head shop’: Council looking at allowing sale of glass pipes

Posted

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

Borough council approved for advertisement changes to a borough ordinance intended to help “vape” shops stay in business in Middletown at its March 7 meeting.

An existing borough ordinance threatened vape shops such as Vapeology at 2 S. Union St. because products that the store wants to sell would be prohibited as being items sold by a “head shop” — a term commonly used to describe a business that sells drug paraphernalia and items associated with using marijuana and other illegal drugs.

In addition, the current ordinance bans head shops from being within 500 feet of any residential zoning district.

Vapeology had expressed concerns about the ordinance in recent weeks through Councilor Diana McGlone. The concerns were prompted by visits that Vapeology received from borough police, who indicated that Vapeology could be violating the current ordinance as a head shop.

Vapeology owner Ryan Burkett appeared before council to say that he wants to sell tobacco accessory products such as artistic hand-blown glass pipes. He has held off on selling these products out of concern that this would violate the head shop ordinance.

Burkett said he and other vape shop owners have been forced to expand their product line into tobacco accessories in order to survive following the imposition of a 40 percent tax on vaping products in Pennsylvania that went into effect on Oct. 1, 2016.

“Before Oct. 1 there were 320 vape shops” in Pennsylvania, Burkett said. Since Oct. 1 146 have gone out of business, including just four in the past week, he said.

“That’s over a third of the entire industry gone,” he said

Burkett said that all his vape shop competitors in the region now sell tobacco accessory products. He just spent $1,500 to renew a state license to sell these products, but he can’t sell them out of concerns over the ordinance — even though Burkett said he has customers coming into his store every day asking for these products.

Borough Solicitor Adam Santucci said that the proposed ordinance revisions clarify that a vape shop “does not meet the definition of a head shop” and therefore can be within 500 feet of a residential district. The revisions also removes from the definition of a head shop some of the items that Burkett wants to sell.

Councilor Ian Reddinger asked Burkett why he wants to sell tobacco accessory products if Burkett has no intention of selling tobacco itself. He also asked Burkett whether there are other products he can sell that would not run afoul of the existing ordinance.

Burkett said the artistic hand-blown pipes are for tobacco, but “like anything else people can misuse them, which would be illegal.”

Council voted 4-2 to approve the changes for advertising, with a vote to consider final approval tentatively set for April 4. Reddinger and Councilor Robert Reid voted against advertising the proposed changes.

After the meeting Reddinger said he is concerned that the products Burkett wants to sell will be used for illegal drug purposes.

“Why would a store that doesn’t plan to sell tobacco need to stock and sell those types of items?” Reddinger asked. “You can sell other things to make money.”

Reid, the borough’s former longtime mayor, said he remembers being part of getting passed in 1980 the original ordinance that restricted head shops from being within 500 feet of a residential district.

Like Reddinger, Reid worries about people buying the items Burkett wants to sell and using them for marijuana.

“There’s a handful of people who will use it for something else, and I don’t want to be a part of that. You hate to see people go out of business, but that’s part of me,” said Reid, who intends to vote against the revised ordinance when it comes for a final vote.

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