The Bong Goodbye

He was the law in these parts, but now Alamosa's former DA may be one toke over the line.

When tobacco seller Douglas Primavera was charged two months ago with peddling drug paraphernalia out of his small shop in downtown Alamosa, more than a few eyebrows were raised. After all, if anyone should have been familiar with the state law covering the sale of bongs, it would be Primavera--who up until six years ago was Alamosa County's district attorney.

And Primavera, who left office in 1992, insists that he does know the law. "I think the law is fairly clear," he says. "According to state statute, there are eleven factors that determine whether something qualifies as drug paraphernalia. And I didn't have any of them."

Backing up Primavera on that point is Huerfano County DA Glen Davis, who was brought in last year to prosecute his former colleague on similar charges but opted to let the case die. "Frankly, I don't think it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," says Davis.

But Alamosa police chief Ronald Lindsey is proving a stubborn opponent. He first busted Primavera last summer for selling water pipes that the chief suspected were being used as marijuana bongs. This past March 24, less than three months after Davis declined to prosecute that case, Lindsey sent one of his detectives back into Primavera's shop to confiscate more pipes.

"This is a small community," the chief explains. "His is an open business, and it was brought to our attention by city hall. We think our interpretation of the law is the correct one."

"There are some people in a small community who don't want the stuff around," acknowledges Primavera, who insists that some smokers actually use water pipes to smoke tobacco and herbs. He claims the water method can cut tar and nicotine intake by up to 50 percent.

"But that's not the point of the law," adds the former prosecutor. He says that while the water pipes he sells could conceivably be used for smoking pot, the law allows him to sell them. "What people do when they walk out of my shop is not up to me," he argues. "I sell cigarettes to people over the age of eighteen, but I'm sure that some of them end up in the hands of kids. I can't control that."

The drug drama delights the state's pot lobby. "Really? A former DA?" chuckles Warren Edson, a Denver attorney who handles many dope cases for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "That's great!"

Primavera's case also has other local prosecutors scrambling to reconcile their desire to appear tough on drugs with their allegiance to their former colleague. "I've worked with Doug for fifteen years, and so it would have been difficult to bring charges," explains Bob Pastore, Alamosa County's current DA.

"He's a friend of mine, a former DA--a lot of people still mistake us for each other. I've found him to be a real decent guy. What's happening now is difficult to see and would have been impossible for me to prosecute. No matter what I did, it would have had the appearance of impropriety." To avoid the conflict, Pastore quickly booted the case to Glen Davis in neighboring Huerfano County.

Despite his status as the former top law enforcement official for a swath of south-central Colorado (the Alamosa DA also handles prosecutions in the adjacent counties of Mineral, Saguache, Rio Grande, Costilla and Conejos), Primavera has a history of butting heads with the system. Last July the Colorado Supreme Court suspended his law license for 105 days for neglecting two criminal cases and a dependency-and-neglect matter. ("Doug said that you do not pay him enough to demand his time," Primavera's secretary told one client after the man attempted to contact Primavera.) In 1995 Primavera was publicly censured by the Supreme Court Disciplinary Committee for failing to pay court-ordered child support.

Primavera had an equally hard time keeping his nose clean before being elected DA in 1988. In the 1970s he received six admonitions from the Colorado Bar Association for neglecting legal matters, according to Supreme Court records.

Having his license suspended last summer after thirty years in the profession was a blow for Primavera. But fortunately for him, he'd already secured a steady source of back-up income. "I've always smoked cigars and pipes, and there wasn't a tobacco shop in the area," he notes. In April 1997 Primavera opened a small store across the street from the district attorney's office. Initially, his private law practice was situated in the back room. "His legal secretary would also sell you cigars," recalls Pastore.

In addition to cigarettes and cigars, the San Juan Tobacco Company hawks T-shirts, sunglasses, incense--and colorful plastic water pipes. "For lawful use only," a sign sternly advises.

That warning apparently didn't convince some locals that Primavera was on the up-and-up, and by last summer, Chief Lindsey says, city officials had received "a number" of complaints that the ex-prosecutor was hawking bongs out of his shop. Getting a warrant to look into the matter, however, took some effort. DAs Davis and Pastore both refused to ask a judge to issue one, but after Lindsey pursued the matter himself, a local judge finally sympathized with the chief. On July 3 Alamosa police investigator Rick Needam presented Primavera with a search warrant informing him that he was in violation of state laws prohibiting the sale of drug paraphernalia. The detective then seized Primavera's water pipes and, despite Davis's obvious lack of interest, forwarded the case to Huerfano County for prosecution.

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