Town Tobacconist v. Kimmelman

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the CourtWILENTZ; Vague laws offend several important values. First, because we assume that man is free to steer between lawful and unlawful conduct, we insist that laws give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibi
Citation462 A.2d 573,94 N.J. 85
PartiesThe TOWN TOBACCONIST, a Proprietorship, a Shop Called East of Cherry Hill, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Annie Hull's, a Proprietorship, East-West, a Proprietorship, Forever Changes, a Partnership, High Ol' Times, a Proprietorship, High Supply, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Indian Cottage, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Inner Circle, a Proprietorship, Inner Dimensions, a Proprietorship, Inner Eye, a Proprietorship, Jack's Music, a Proprietorship, Ma-Raja, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Nature's Head, a Proprietorship, Smuggler's Attic of Willowbrook, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Amsun World Imports, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Ahead of Our Tyme, a Proprietorship, Turntable, a Proprietorship, George Dickinson, Sandy Wilson, Michael Saitz, Mike Hull, Annie Hull, Alex Suvino, Richard Cook, Bruce Kessler, Bruce Shore, Larry Ward, Vijay Gupta, Joseph Asero, Barbara Asero, Gloria Bubblo, Gloria Kirkpatrick, Jack Anderson, Champ Tailor, Eric Knoedler, Sol Inspector, Tom Bahmer, Pat Bahmer, Ken Tersten, Jessie Roe, John Smith, a Fictitious Name, Mary Smith, a Fictitious Name, and XYZ Corporation, a Fictitious Name, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Irwin I. KIMMELMAN, Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Defendant- Respondent.
Decision Date19 July 1983

Page 85

94 N.J. 85
462 A.2d 573
The TOWN TOBACCONIST, a Proprietorship, a Shop Called East
of Cherry Hill, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Annie
Hull's, a Proprietorship, East-West, a Proprietorship,
Forever Changes, a Partnership, High Ol' Times, a
Proprietorship, High Supply, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation,
Indian Cottage, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Inner
Circle, a Proprietorship, Inner Dimensions, a
Proprietorship, Inner Eye, a Proprietorship, Jack's Music, a
Proprietorship, Ma-Raja, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation,
Nature's Head, a Proprietorship, Smuggler's Attic of
Willowbrook, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Amsun World
Imports, Inc., a New Jersey Corporation, Ahead of Our Tyme,
a Proprietorship, Turntable, a Proprietorship, George
Dickinson, Sandy Wilson, Michael Saitz, Mike Hull, Annie
Hull, Alex Suvino, Richard Cook, Bruce Kessler, Bruce Shore,
Larry Ward, Vijay Gupta, Joseph Asero, Barbara Asero, Gloria
Bubblo, Gloria Kirkpatrick, Jack Anderson, Champ Tailor,
Eric Knoedler, Sol Inspector, Tom Bahmer, Pat Bahmer, Ken
Tersten, Jessie Roe, John Smith, a Fictitious Name, Mary
Smith, a Fictitious Name, and XYZ Corporation, a Fictitious
Name, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Irwin I. KIMMELMAN, Attorney General of the State of New
Jersey, Defendant- Respondent.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued Jan. 10, 1983.
Decided July 19, 1983.

[462 A.2d 576]

Page 92

Philip Rosenbach, Roseland, for plaintiffs-appellants (Lowenstein, Sandler, Brochin, Kohn, Fisher & Boylan, Roseland, attorneys; Philip Rosenbach and Roger A. Lowenstein, Roseland, on the brief).

Daniel Louis Grossman, Deputy Atty. Gen., for defendant-respondent (Irwin I. Kimmelman, Atty. Gen., attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

WILENTZ, C.J.

The statute before us, New Jersey's Drug Paraphernalia Act, N.J.S.A. 24:21-46 to -53, seeks to criminalize "head shops," to put them out of business. It has never been enforced, the

Page 93

parties having consented to an injunction against such enforcement pending the outcome of this appeal. Given the illegal conduct on which these stores thrive, the attainment of the goal of the statute is clearly within the power of the Legislature. The question is whether the means selected by the Legislature to achieve that goal are constitutional. We hold that, measured against plaintiffs' attack, this drug paraphernalia law is constitutional; that the typical "head shop" operation implicitly assumed in this opinion (since the record does not supply the complete details of an actual "head shop" operation) is criminal; and we suspect that, in [462 A.2d 577] fact, the conduct of most New Jersey "head shops" could be found by a jury to constitute a crime.

We are aware, as the Legislature undoubtedly was, that many people smoke or have smoked marijuana, and have used "drug paraphernalia" in doing so. Given that fact, there is obviously some question about the effectiveness of laws aimed, directly or indirectly, at preventing such conduct, especially when the methods of distribution are so diverse. The effectiveness of such a law, however, is not within the courts' province; the judiciary's sole function here is to decide whether the law is constitutional and within the power of the Legislature.

I.

On October 29, 1980, the Legislature passed a bill, commonly referred to as the Drug Paraphernalia Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 24:21-46 to -53 (L.1980, c. 133), supplementing the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. N.J.S.A. 24:21-1 to -53. The Act imposes criminal penalties for dealing in various ways with drug paraphernalia.

Plaintiffs are a group of retail merchants whose businesses fall within the statute's proscriptions. They operate "head shops." They claim the Act is void for vagueness, is unconstitutionally overbroad and chills their First Amendment rights. On the effective date of the Act, plaintiffs filed a complaint challenging its constitutionality and sought a permanent injunction.

Page 94

A consent order issued enjoining enforcement of the Act pending trial.

The only witness to testify at trial was the owner of a New Jersey retail establishment called "Inner Dimensions." She admitted that in her store she sold bongs, waterpipes, rolling papers, and other implements specifically listed as drug paraphernalia. 1 She claimed, however, the statute was vague and incomprehensible, primarily because she could not be certain whether the items she sold were covered by the Act.

The trial court ruled that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, specifically holding that the statute's definition of drug paraphernalia is unclear. That definition, essentially, is: any item "used or intended for use" in connection with certain activities (e.g., smoking marijuana) that violate the controlled dangerous substances laws. N.J.S.A. 24:21-1 to -53. The trial court stated:

The phrase "used or intended for use", that appears a dozen times renders the definition of drug paraphernalia unlawfully vague. It is impossible for any retailer to know whose use or whose intention he must be aware of.

The Attorney General appealed to the Appellate Division, which reversed. 186 N.J.Super. 449, 453 A.2d 209 (1982). In between the trial court and Appellate Division decisions, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U.S. 489, 102 S.Ct. 1186, 71 L.Ed.2d 362 (1982), upholding the constitutionality of an ordinance requiring businesses to obtain licenses before selling any item "designed or marketed for use with illegal cannabis or drugs." The Appellate Division, relying, in part, on Hoffman Estates,

Page 95

rejected the trial court's finding that the statute's definition of drug paraphernalia was vague and concluded that none of its challenged substantive provisions violated the Constitution. We granted certification. 91 N.J. 248, 450 A.2d 566 (1982).

[462 A.2d 578] We affirm and hold the Act free of the asserted constitutional infirmities. 2

Page 96

II.

The use of marijuana and cocaine is clearly illegal in New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 24:21-20. Given that fact, it is somewhat astonishing to observe the open operation of stores--"head shops"--that specialize in the sale of drug paraphernalia, namely, items that are commonly used with controlled dangerous substances and are clearly intended by the store owner to attract those who would so use them. This litigation, along with similar litigation in other states that have passed laws prohibiting the sale and use of drug paraphernalia, arises not because there is any doubt about the Legislature's power to criminalize conduct so clearly designed to facilitate or encourage other illegal conduct. The litigation arises rather from the asserted difficulty in distinguishing with sufficient clarity the sale of the same article, a pipe, for instance, by two different merchants--and making one sale criminal and the other not.

Generally speaking it is both legally permissible and, through careful drafting, entirely feasible to criminalize this kind of conduct only where the actor intends that the goods be used in connection with the illegal use of drugs or knows that it is highly probable that they will be so used. The perception of difficulty in drawing this [462 A.2d 579] distinction stems both from the earlier

Page 97

statutory attempts to do so as well as from the most recent attempts of which the Act is typical. The principal deficiency of the earlier laws was their failure to require explicitly that such intention or knowledge was a pre-condition to criminal responsibility. See, e.g., ordinances held unconstitutional in Music Stop, Inc. v. City of Ferndale, 488 F.Supp. 390 (E.D.Mich.1980); Knoedler v. Roxbury Twp., 485 F.Supp. 990 (D.N.J.1980); Bambu Sales, Inc. v. Gibson, 474 F.Supp. 1297 (D.N.J.1979). The deficiency of the more recent statutes, including those patterned after the Model Act referred to infra at 580, is that they may have over-corrected the deficiency of the earlier statutes by not only explicitly requiring such criminal intent but by repeating the requirement so many times as to lend some credibility to the claim that the statute is unclear. 3

To the extent that the Act's language does not clearly differentiate those activities that are legal from those that have been criminalized, its purpose and history supply whatever clarity is needed, as we point out later in this opinion. This differentiation based on the actor's intent or knowledge is not required by any constitutional mandate or other fundamental principle (or at least no one is so arguing, nor do we believe such an argument would have any force): the Legislature presumably could criminalize the sale of any article that facilitates the illegal use of marijuana or cocaine regardless of the actor's state of mind. For example, the Legislature could presumably absolutely prohibit the sale of pipes, concluding that while the article has nonobnoxious uses, its potential criminal uses call for its total

Page 98

abolition in our society. 4 The value judgment has been made differently, however, the Legislature having concluded that a differentiation would better serve societal interests. The problem that the differentiation causes is not one of prohibiting some kind of activity that is constitutionally protected, but rather one of not setting forth that which is prohibited with sufficient clarity to give fair warning to those affected.

Since the major thrust of plaintiffs' attack is their contention that the law is impermissibly vague, our task is to construe those provisions whose clarity is at issue. Within limits, our construction may provide some clarity of meaning that may not have been there initially. We begin by examining the Act's purpose and legislative history. With the Act construed in that light, we then measure it against the constitutional challenges asserted by plaintiffs. In this connection Hoffman Estates, though...

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