Hashing out the weighty matters of Minnesota law

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2011 - 10:59 PM

These are the things that occupy our Legislature -- bong water. They just passed a bill that changes the old bong-water laws so people don't get extra charges for the drug residue they forgot to pour out. May we quote from H.F. 479?

SECTION 2. Small amount. Amends the definition of "small amount," which relates to the offense of possession of a small amount of marijuana, so that the weight of bong water may not be used to determine what constitutes a "small amount" when the bong water measures less than 4 fluid ounces.

You may be surprised to find the words "bong water" enshrined in the majestic tablets of our law, but there's no other way to put it. Oh, maybe "hookah fluid" or "stoner-ade" or something else, but nothing quite gets to the pith of the gist like "bong water."

If your knowledge of the drug culture comes from episodes of "Cops" where people stopped for busted taillights happen to be carrying a backpack stuffed with reefer -- really, Officer, I found it, and I was on my way to give it to the police -- you might not know what a bong is, let alone the juices contained therein. Well, to put it in Jack Webb terms, a "bong" is a device for smoking "mary jane" or "tea," or, if you're seriously intent on divesting yourself of your teeth and looking like you exfoliate your face with a cheese grater, meth.

It was meth that started the bong-water debate in the first place. A woman was arrested for meth a few years back, and the quantity of residue in the bong -- the paraphernalia mixture, if you want to sound official -- bumped up her charge. Some insisted this was, to use the legal term, "silly" -- I forget the exact Latin phrase -- because no one drinks the bong water, and it makes for a brackish gargle. Not even the most devoted loopy-lettuce enthusiast stretches out on the porch on a hot day and thinks man, a nice glass of iced bong water would hit the spot. Pour it in a dog's dish and you get that "I'm sorry, what? This? No" expression.

The courts ruled in favor of the bong-water standard, 4-3. A bill attempted to amend the law to exclude bong water but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. This one made it through and will probably be signed. The first draft of the bill probably read something like this:

Section 4: If the fluid shall be spilled in the carpet, and the carpet shall be shag (for purposes of this bill a "shag" shall be defined as a blend of no less than 45 percent Fortrel fiber or the generic equivalent, with a jute backing and an ugly rust color) then no more than 2 square feet of carpet can be used to test for the presence of controlled substances; furthermore, if the carpet contains controlled substances not present in the wording of the search warrant, the substance cannot be used to charge with additional expenses, unless the subject of the search casually mentions "hey, you might find something else in there, but it belonged to this guy. He said his name was Joe. I don't know where he lives." If this is the case, subject shall be given a long, deadpan expression and advised of his rights.

Section 7: If a large glass skull with Grateful Dead stickers and two pipes sticking out of its skull is tested for the presence of marijuana, and the results are positive, no one shall be particularly surprised.

Section 12: Should this bill be read aloud in open session, the clerk will say the following in a low whisper while someone else makes a distracting ruckus: "The state shall issue bonds in the amount of $800 million, paid for with a .08 tax on all Internet purchases and a 40 percent tax on bongs, to build a Vikings stadium."

Section 13: Section 12 will not be reread now that order has been restored, because it's just boring procedural stuff. A vote shall be called.

Six years later, everyone's enjoying a new stadium and marveling how it got built after all that wrangling. It's nice to know that lawmakers can get together, put aside their differences, and get things done. And here we thought they just spent their time on small strange things that baffle most people. Ah well, if only the stadium had better beer for sale. This stuff tastes like paraphernalia mixture.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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