Around 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, Jarvis, a 20-ish Park View resident, plunks his cash down in the glass carousel of a Georgia Avenue convenience store and barks out his order: “Honey Philly!” The clerk, separated by a wall of plexiglass, furrows his brow and cups his hand to his ear. He can’t hear. So Jarvis shouts again, enunciating: “Ho-ney Phil-ly!”
The clerk catches on this time, and he serves up the desired cigarPhillies being the brand, honey the flavor. It’s what Jarvis will be rolling with this evening, though he’s not wedded to the honey Philly. Dutch Masters, he says, also puts out a nice cigar. And as far as flavor goes, he actually prefers chocolate. “They hit better than most blunts,” he says with a shrug.
Jarvis has a lot of blunts to choose from at the liquor and convenience stores along Georgia Avenue NW. At the Georgia Ave. Market, where he’s shopping tonight, the Phillies lineup runs the whole flavor gamut: berry, sour apple, peach, strawberry, honey, chocolate. Even cognac.
While it’s a boon to smokers like Jarvis, the diversity in choice for cigar consumers angers Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Sinclair Skinner. “The chocolate, the watermelon, the strawberryall this is ridiculous,” says the 34-year-old Skinner, who runs a dry cleaner in the neighborhood. “I tell young people about it and they know it’s ridiculous. And hypocritical….It’s enticing when you see flavored candy. Now you have flavored blunts.”
To Skinner, who lives near Howard University, the panoply of flavors is just one more indicator that the cigars are rarely smoked in their original formand one more reason he’s intent on halting their spread. Noting that blunts and other smoking products are marketed to the hiphop crowd in magazines and on the Web, Skinner believes a race element is at work. “The areas that receive the proliferation of these products are in black neighborhoods,” he says, adding that the creation of a watermelon flavor only adds to the race argument. “That’s some real Sambo stuff.”
To bolster his campaign, Skinner’s working to enlist the Howard University chapter of the NAACP and plans on taking out advertisements in the school’s student newspaper. But his main strategy will be to implement voluntary agreements.
Such agreements between advisory neighborhood commissions and local businesses are common: If the business agrees to stop promulgating a community nuisancesuch as live music, say, or single-container beverage salesthe commission will withdraw its objections when the time comes for license renewal with, for example, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. But Skinner’s 11-member commission has so far drafted no resolution against blunts sales, and some would rather not meddle. “You have two schools of thought,” concedes Skinner. “Some have a laissez-faire attitude: Let the business do what they want if they’re not breaking the law.”
So Skinner has decided to hit the streets on his own. He made his first approach last weekto Sonya’s Market at the corner of 11th and Harvard Streets NWand said he wouldn’t support the store’s future beer-license renewals unless it stopped selling single blunts. Under Skinner’s proposal, the store would be limited to selling only multi-blunt packages.
Owner Yong Fu, who’s been running Sonya’s Market for 20 years, sells strawberry-, chocolate-, and apple-flavored Phillies, along with standard Dutch Master cigars and Top brand rolling papers. Because Skinner hasn’t approached any other retailers, Fu feels singled out. He’s worried he’ll have to stop selling some forms of blunts while his competitors around the block can continue hawking all the flavors. “Whatever [Skinner] says, we have to do,” he says.
Adding fuel to the fire of Skinner’s crusade, manufacturers such as Royal Blunts, along with rolling out new flavors, have introduced what are commonly called “blunt papers”flavored tobacco-leaf paper without the filling. Marijuana smokers, explains Skinner, no longer have to open the cigar to remove the low-grade tobacco inside. “It’s to the point where you don’t even have to unroll the blunt,” he says. “‘We’ll just give you the paper.’”
Lance Alexander, a spokesperson for Corona, Calif.-based Royal Blunts, says the explosion of the roll-your-own market has more to do with rising cigarette taxes than with marijuana use. “There’s a heavy tax in most states,” says Alexander. “Consumers have decided to buy their own loose tobacco and paper.”
Alexander, whose company sells pre-cut, “ready-to-roll” leaf papers in nine flavors including blueberry and honey, says Royal Blunts regularly receives glowing testimonials from cigarette smokers who use its rolling papers. Not a single cannabis smoker, he says, has written to the company. Allowing that such papers could be used to illegal ends, Alexander says his company nonetheless wouldn’t be responsible. “Clearly, you can use any product for illicit purposes,” he argues. “Say I buy a can of Coca-Cola and I make a Molotov cocktail out of it. Then I go throwing it around. Are you going to say they can’t sell Coke?”
Skinner plans on explaining his voluntary-agreement proposal to more neighborhood stores over the coming weeks. Fu, for his part, says he doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about. “I don’t even know what they use them for,” he says. CP