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Paraphernalia shops drop the smoke screen

By Globe Staff 

Of course it was for marijuana. All of it. The cheapo metal one-hitters that are supposed to look like a cigarette. The glass shelves lined with pocket vaporizers. The $175 Magic Butter machine. All of it.

And at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday in Massachusetts, as recreational marijuana became legal, the shops that have been selling all this paraphernalia could finally end their long public wink, take down the “for tobacco use only” signs, and admit that their glass cases have always been filled with toys for getting high.

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“I’m so sick of telling customers they can’t say bong, or marijuana. And I’ll be so glad to not have to say ‘tobacco’ anymore,” said Zelda Feinberg, throwing up huge, dramatic air quotes around the word “tobacco.” Feinberg is one of the cofounders of Buried Treasures, a “smoke shop” that has been pretending it had no idea what you were talking about with this weed stuff in various locations in Boston and Cambridge since 1983.

The “it’s for tobacco” deceit was a thin and often ludicrous charade carried out for decades by shops all over the state. With names like the Trippy Hippy, The Hempest, and Wild Side Smoke Shop, it’s unlikely anybody was fooled. But Massachusetts laws were clear — no sales of drug paraphernalia — and the penalties for violating them stiff, up to two years in prison or fines up to $5,000. So retailers strictly enforced the rules.

Customers who dared drop the “tobacco” ruse at her shop would usually get a warning, Feinberg said, and then the door. No talk of weed. And no using the “b word” — “bong just feels like a drug word,” Feinberg said. Customers were asked to call it a “water pipe” and pretend they were asking about the 4-foot, 4-inch chambered glass tower because they just weren’t getting enough out of their cigarettes.

“Now I don’t care what you call it. Call it a bong. Call it whatever you want,” said Feinberg, who said she stopped pretending about all of it after the ballot measure passed in November. For the first time in the shop’s 33-year history, they brought in apparel featuring the marijuana leaf. “Having that stuff in here feels like a big deal. We always had to be so careful.”

Upholding the “for tobacco use only” façade has always meant that it is somehow plausible that the product be usable for tobacco or some other legal pursuit. Could you use a glass pipe for tobacco? Most definitely. Could you eat a cookie made with tobacco butter? Technically, probably. Could you use the carbon-lined odor-absorbing messenger bag on sale at Buried Treasures for something other than transporting marijuana? Sure. Are there scenarios in which you’d want to disguise a cigarette by using a metal cigarette? Maybe so. And on and on. That has been the drill: Just pretend the items sold by the shop were for tobacco and everything was fine.

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And now, well, it’s over. Right? Everyone can drop the act on Thursday? Just up the street from Buried Treasures in Allston, Richard Lamoretti, the owner of Fast Eddie’s Smoke Shop, still wasn’t ready to budge. “I’ve got a copy of the old laws around here somewhere,” he said, sifting through binders behind the counter. “The section on paraphernalia is like four pages long and whoever wrote it was good.”

He asked a Globe reporter to read him the new law, twice, which states that it is not a crime “for possessing, purchasing or otherwise obtaining or manufacturing marijuana accessories or for selling or otherwise transferring marijuana accessories to a person who is 21 years of age or older.”

His face continued to make clear that he was not sold.

“My current story is that this is all for tobacco use only,” he said.

On Thursday, would that change? Would he admit that nearly everything in his shop was for weed?

“You just told me that I can, right?” he asked, still with the suspicious face, triggering another assurance that no one here was a narc.

“I’ll tell you this, though,” he said finally. “We’re not going to have any huge jump in our business.”

And why is that?

“Because I don’t think we have many law-abiding citizens who have been sitting around waiting until it was legal to say the word bong.”


Billy Baker can be reached at billy.baker@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.