SMOKE OUT: Green Side Up Gallery owner Matthew Yaffe (right) was licensed by the city. So why, asks Scott Matalon (left), did the cops arrest Yaffe and take his stock?
Who is responsible for the wave of "functional glass art" shop raids that has recently taken place throughout Allston?
Since April, Wildside Gallery, The Joint, and Green Side Up Gallery were raided by police and shut down for selling what the issued search warrants call "paraphernalia."
"I can't remember the last time merchants were closed down in the neighborhood," Scott Matalon, owner of Stingray Body Art and a director of Allston Board of Trade (ABOT), tells the Phoenix by phone.
Matalon and ABOT got involved with the issue after both Wildside and The Joint were shuttered, since it seemed that no other similar shop outside of Allston had been cited. Further research by the Phoenix has not turned up a similar raid in any other Boston neighborhood. According to Matalon, after the first two raids, ABOT asked a Boston Police community liaison from District 14 to attend one of its meetings. The liaison reassured ABOT that there was no targeting of local businesses, and that Boston Police were concerned with safety hazards, electrical compliance, and licensing issues. There'd been no criminal charges filed against either business, and other local business owners were told they were in no danger of being targeted as long as their licensing and signage was in order.
But then on June 16, Green Side Up Gallery was raided, $50,000 worth of stock — its entire inventory — was confiscated, and owner Matthew Yaffe was arrested and charged with distribution of drug paraphernalia. Yaffe had worked with the city for three months to make sure he was properly licensed and compliant with city and state codes.
A Phoenix review of the search-warrant applications filed for the raided businesses found that "under the direction of Sergeant Detective James Fong," local District 14 has been "conducting investigations into illegal Head Shops" and that investigating officers went to tobacconist LJ Peretti Co., who told them that there was "no legitimate purpose for non-conventional pipes such as glass or porcelain."
Of course, others would disagree. Toni, owner of Ritual Arts in Allston, considers her shop a "metaphysical supply store." She's been in business for 27 years, supplying locals with goods to perform rituals in a wide variety of spiritual traditions. "There are numerous herbs that are perfectly legal and used in ceremony for religious purposes that require smoking and have nothing to do with getting high," she explains.
Since the raids, however, Ritual Arts has ceased selling pipes.
According to Massachusetts law, "paraphernalia" can include blenders, bowls, spoons, balloons, and envelopes. Because a product's intended use determines its paraphernalia status, police interpretation of the law plays a huge role in what's prosecuted and what isn't.
"Intent is a slippery slope," says Matalon. "Intent is in someone's mind. We don't have thought police in America.
"The city gave [these business owners] permits," he adds, "and then the police interpreted a law to stop them from doing what the city said they could do."
"The police keep saying that everybody knows what these things are for," Yaffe's attorney (and ABOT member), Joshua Krefetz, tells the Phoenix. "But not 'everybody' is on trial. Matthew Yaffe is on trial."