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Shop owner cleared of drug charge

Email|Print| Text size + By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / December 13, 2007

The owner of Brennan's Smoke Shop has been cleared of charges that she was selling drug paraphernalia out of her Pembroke store.

Karen Brennan Fontana, who also operates tobacco shops in Plymouth and Brockton, was found not guilty last week in Wareham District Court.

Fontana said she was "very pleased" with Judge Thomas S. Barrett's decision.

"It was a relief," she said. "We run a legitimate business, and we're back to business as usual."

Brennan's Smoke Shop, located on Route 139 in Pembroke, carries an assortment of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and roll-your-own tobacco supplies. The first Brennan's Smoke Shop opened in Plymouth 17 years ago, and the family-run business has since expanded across the South Shore, with stores in Abington, Bridgewater, Brockton, and Whitman.

The case dates to November 2005, when authorities received a tip that the shop was selling water pipes, or bongs, and other products that could be considered drug paraphernalia.

Pembroke police officers visited the store and identified a variety of items that they considered to be illegal. Police then successfully obtained a warrant and seized 330 smoking pipes; 44 glass water pipes/bongs; 23 plastic bongs; 44 scales/weighing devices; 15 small glass containers, 87 grinders, and 50 replacement parts for repair.

Police charged Fontana with one count of possessing drug paraphernalia with intent to distribute. Fontana pleaded innocent to the charge and insisted the items sold in her store were meant for smoking loose tobacco.

Massachusetts law prohibits sale of an item "under circumstances where one reasonably should know that it will be used to . . . plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, . . . store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance." Violators face one to two years in jail and a $500 to $5,000 fine.

Under the statute, items such as roach clips, razor blades, tiny spoons, and water pipes could be considered drug paraphernalia in certain circumstances; the law also states that authorities must take into account any drug residue found on the item; if there are illegal drugs close by; or if the item is sold at a licensed tobacco shop.

The judge found Fontana not guilty of the charge.

Fontana estimated that the merchandise confiscated by police to be worth approximately $20,000. It has been sitting in boxes in the evidence room of the Pembroke Police Department as her case proceeded through the courts.

"Hopefully, we'll get it back," said Fontana, who lives in Hingham. "I don't see why we shouldn't be able to." She said she plans to open a new shop in Wareham in the near future.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.

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