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Put That in Your Crack Pipe

SE Portland Neighborhood Fights Crack Pipes

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Last year, the Lents Neighborhood Association (LNA)—which represents the neighborhood that straddles I-205, from Powell Boulevard to Portland's southern border—elected a spunky slate of board members.

"We have a lot of new ideas," explains the group's new communications chair, Jeffrey Rose. They want to revitalize buildings in the neighborhood's historic center, uncouple busy Foster Road and Woodstock Boulevard, and spruce up the neighborhood with lilacs.

But first, they want to get drug paraphernalia out of their neighborhood's convenience stores.

"We've taken an inventory of the shops in our neighborhood," says LNA President Kris Nord. There are 15 independent convenience stores in Lents, and many of them have items on the shelves that can be used to consume drugs.

The items are legal as long as they aren't used for drugs. So products are often in disguise: Small glass pipes—which can be used to smoke meth—contain a fake rose, turning the item into a cheap romantic gift. Slim metal pipes and "bullets"—tiny canisters with screw-off tops, which neighbors contend can hide small amounts of drugs—are fashioned into key chains, and hung on display cards above the counter.

One shop on SE Foster was less covert: Next to colorful glass bongs, slim crack pipes are unabashedly for sale.

"Meanwhile, we don't have any place to go for office supplies," says the LNA's Rose, who popped into the shop to pick up a pack of Camel Lights and point out the targeted wares.

"We want them to get rid of stuff crippling our community, and help them adjust to selling things we need."

They've drafted a letter to the stores, politely asking shop owners to remove any drug-related goods.

"The merchandizing of drug paraphernalia attracts the kind of customers that are likely to break into our homes, cars, and businesses in order to support their addictions," the draft letter says. The letter includes a Good Neighbor Agreement for the shop to sign.

Rose thinks most of the shops will be happy to comply with the LNA's request. The association's offering perks to shops that do, like promotion in the neighborhood newsletter, and a "neighborhood friendly" certificate to hang in the window.

"For those that are willing to work with us, we'd like to sit down with them and see if there are any ways to come up with other sources of revenue for them," adds Nord.

One shop has already yanked drug-related items: "Given the potential illegal use of this product, our company has made a business decision to discontinue the sale of glass tobacco pipes in the store," Eric Tong, a new owner of the HJ Mini Mart and Deli on SE Holgate, wrote to neighbors on March 22.  "We wish to be responsible business owners and want to promote good relations in the community."

But if there are holdouts, Rose says, the LNA has a backup plan. Liquor licenses for businesses south of Burnside are up for renewal soon—the public comment period ends on May 15. Neighbors in Lents are prepared to lobby against renewals for shops that stock drug paraphernalia.

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