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Cops seize pipes at Left of Center

A difference of opinion on what constitutes drug paraphernalia didn't stop Hudson police from seizing 25 "pipes " and other items from Left of Center in downtown Hudson.

According to Chief Marty Jensen, police conducted the raid of the store at 609 Second St. on Monday. The store owner contends that the items confiscated are for tobacco use, not illegal drugs. Jensen said that in his 30 years in law enforcement, he has never seen the kind of pipes they seized used for ordinary tobacco smoking.

Left of Center describes itself as an adult entertainment and tobacco shop.

The police issued 25 citations to each of the store managers on duty at the time of the raid. Melissa J. Daniels, 39, Coon Rapids, Minn. and Brian E. Orcutt, 38, Maple Grove, Minn. face fines of $240 per citation for a total of $6,000 each.

Jensen said the raid should not have been unexpected. The department had notified Left of Center that some of the merchandise they were selling was in violation of a city ordinance last month. The chief had been watching what happened in Moorhead, Minn. where they have an ordinance with very similar wording to Hudson's and where police had conducted a similar raid. There had been a court challenge to the police action but when a court upheld the police action, Jensen decided to act.

According to the chief, Left of Center was notified in writing that some of their inventory was considered drug paraphernalia and there in violation of the ordinance. The business asked the police to clarify which inventory they meant. Pictures of the inventory were taken and all the illegal items were identified by officers. The business of given a deadline of May 21 to have the items removed or face citations.

When police arrived, most of the store's questionable inventory had been removed with the exception the 25 pipes seized from a display case.

Orcutt and Daniels have been ordered to appear in Hudson Municipal Court before Judge Susan Gherty on June 20. Left of Center has retained Hudson attorney Andrew Nelson and has indicated that they will fight the citations and appeal to a higher court if necessary. A petition at the business supporting the store's right to sell the pipes already has more than 400 signatures.

Signs in the store state that the pipes are for smoking tobacco only and that any customers overheard talking about using the pipes with an illegal substance will be asked to leave.

Jensen said the department has also been in contact with the owners of two new shops planning to open on the Hill in Hudson, The Hideaway and Smokedale Tobacco. "We want them to be aware of how we are interpreting the ordinance."

Jensen said he has been in contact with the city attorney and that he believes the department's action is supported by the ordinance.

"We all know there is a drug problem in Hudson. If we can slow the sale of drug paraphernalia, maybe we can slow down some of the drug use as well. We know that moving the sale of ephedrine to behind the counter slowed the methamphetamine traffic. Maybe this action can have a similar effect."

In an interview attorney Nelson said the HPD's action was "selective enforcement" that would not stand up in court.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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