It's 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and I'm inside the Home Depot at 22nd Street N. in St. Petersburg so Leo Calzadilla can prove a point.
He strolls through the plumbing aisle and stops at the brass fittings. He picks up a five-inch brass nipple, screws on an elbow tube, adds a round connector on top and holds it up to a man next to him.
"What does this look like to you?" Calzadilla asks him.
"A pipe," the man answers uncomfortably.
Calzadilla shoots me a grin, throws the metal "pipe" into the shopping cart and heads down to the next aisle. He spots a package of steel wool.
"[Drug addicts] put this inside crack pipes," he says, throwing the package into the cart and moving toward the paint aisle, where he gathers chemicals like acetone and turpentine that can be used as inhalants. He stops at a three-foot-long acrylic tube that could easily be made into a bong.
"Home Depot Special -- $3.99," he says, emphasizing the price.
It goes in the cart, too.
After a trip through the garden center, Calzadilla returns to the plumbing aisle with what he presents as a cornucopia of druggie dream gear: pipes and tubes (which can be used, he says, for fashioning metal pipes and homemade hookahs); sink screens (pipe bowls); and a C02-powered contraption called Kleer Drain (a "cracker" for C02 inhalers). Depending on how they are used, the items fall within the statutory definition of drug paraphernalia.
"Could I realistically say Home Depot is now a head shop?" he asks rhetorically.
Calzadilla is the owner of Purple Haze, a tobacco accessories shop on 34th Street in St. Petersburg's Midtown. Recently, his store became one of dozens in the county targeted by a proposed ordinance prohibiting the sale of drug paraphernalia.
But Calzadilla does not sell drug paraphernalia. Well, at least he doesn't think so.
At his store -- a small space lined with glass cases filled with pipes, rolling papers and detox kits -- Calzadilla questions the stereotypes surrounding his inventory.
To demonstrate, he takes three different pipes out of the glass case in front of him: a wooden pipe with a long black stem, a corn-cob pipe and a colorful glass pipe with a cartoonish octopus on it. He holds up each one and asks: "If you saw me smoking out of this pipe, what would you think I was smoking?"
"It all depends on the person who interprets it," says the 44-year-old former Brooklynite who also owns a car accessories store across the street from Purple Haze. "All these pipes are meant to smoke tobacco -- that's what I sell them for. If a person wants to use it improperly I cannot stop them."
His best example is the hookah, an Egyptian water pipe recently turned mainstream. Hookah lounges where hipsters can communally smoke flavored tobacco have popped up in urban areas across the country, including Tampa.
He turns to his left and grabs what most college students would call a bong.
"This is the same concept, but it is called an American water pipe," he schools me.
Calzadilla goes over almost every item in the store just as thoroughly: The scales are for jewelry, the hollow cans of Alpo dog food are safes and the C02 cartridges are for making whipped cream to use as a marital aid.
"If I sell it, they want to consider it illegal. But you can go to Target, Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie and purchase it, and it's perfectly fine," he says. "Right there, that is unconstitutional to tell me I have to take something off of my shelves but meanwhile let [other stores] do it."
Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch, organizer of the Drug Abatement Task Force that authored the proposed ordinance, thinks that is just splitting hairs.
"You can look at the totality of that situation and say, 'Should a reasonable retailer know these will be used for illegal purposes?'" says Welch, who organized the task force last year in response to pressure from the NAACP. "It paints a picture and it makes the case for law enforcement."
Under current state statutes, retailers can only be found guilty of selling drug paraphernalia when it has been proven they knew the items they sold would be used to ingest drugs. The proposed ordinance attempts to lower the standards on what a retailer should have known certain products would be used for when selling, advertising or manufacturing them.
The new standard question would be: When the retailer sold a product, did they have reasonable knowledge that it would be used to ingest illegal drugs?
"It lowers that standard for what the retailer should have known," Welch says. "We think we're giving [law enforcement] the tools to prosecute against these drug paraphernalia retailers."
"It's not just the head shops," he explains. "I think we've identified 44 locations to date and we think that's just scratching the surface."
Many of those include convenience stores in Pinellas Park and Largo where anybody, presumably even minors, can purchase a pipe. Some of these retailers, like the BP gas station on 62nd Avenue in Pinellas Park, have already taken down the offending displays.
To make the case for the insidious relationship between retailers and drug use, Welch points to a 2005 Operation Parental Awareness and Responsibility client study in which recovering drug addicts were asked if the presence of smoke shops had a negative impact on their sobriety. Fifty percent said yes.
Another survey of 89 outpatient clients of St. Pete's Westcare drug rehab program showed more damning results: 67 percent of the individuals report having obtained their paraphernalia from a "head" or smoke shop.
"I literally have little old ladies asking me in the neighborhoods ... 'How can they sell that?'" he says. "The only folks I'm hearing against this is the folks who are making a dollar on it, and frankly, that's just not moving me."
Yet even Welch concedes some of the task force's assumptions about items associated with drug culture were wrong.
"One thing we did learn is the hookah trend does have a legitimate side," he says.
This unfamiliarity with the tobacco trade frustrates Calzadilla.
"Anything that is made by man or nature can be used improperly and considered paraphernalia," he says. "A crack head is not going to come into my store and spend $50-80 on a piece of glass art used to smoke tobacco, when he can go to the local convenience store and buy a 50-cent can of soda and use that to smoke his illegal drugs."
His mantra? "It's not what you sell, it's how you sell it."
Calzadilla insists he takes the necessary precautions, including requiring identification to enter his store, prohibiting minors and refraining from suggestive advertising.
"If you walk into my store there's nothing here that represents any type of illegal activity," he stresses. "I don't have shirts that say legalize it, I don't have any lighters that have cannabis leaves on it, I don't condone any type of illegal activity or drug use."
But what about the name of the store, sometimes used as a reference for high-grade marijuana or LSD?
Calvazilla claims he never heard the allusion.
"I like the color purple," he says with a straight face.
By the end of our paraphernalia shopping tour in Home Depot, Calzadilla has amassed an entire cart of items that could be used illegally, including two metal pipes he fastened together from plumbing parts. He puts most of the items back, but decides to purchase the pipes just to see if the cashier will sell him the items even after he fashioned them into obvious pipes.
Calzadilla looks vindicated as he steps into the truck.
"Let me know if you want to go to Bed Bath and Beyond," he says. "They have all kinds of shit there."