PORTLAND — The Peace Food Market on Cumberland Avenue sells a variety of standard snacks, some traditional African foods and corner store staples like cigarettes and phone cards.

What’s raising eyebrows is the store’s display of ornate, blown glass pipes, particularly given its location a block from Portland High School.

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate, for the hundreds of students a month that walk by or perhaps even frequent that establishment, to be close to that,” said Portland High Principal Michael Johnson. “I don’t feel it’s necessary around a school.”

Johnson said he hadn’t known that pipes that could be used to smoke marijuana were being sold so close to the school.

“I will be investigating and I would hope to perhaps have a friendly conversation with the owner,” Johnson said. “I would hope that we could have a civil conversation about how we might be able to make a living in a little more discreet way that doesn’t necessarily deliver the wrong message to my students.”

One of the shop’s two owners, Mohamed Haidaram, noted that while the store is a block from the school, it is also across Cumberland Avenue from many apartment buildings in the Bayside neighborhood.

A Somali immigrant, Haidaram has run the store for a little more than a year. His co-owner, who declined to give his name, saying Haidaram is the spokesman, has been a partner for the past several months.

On display at the Peace Food Market are two large hookahs, the type of waterpipes that often are used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries to smoke tobacco. Hookahs have become popular with some Americans for smoking flavored tobacco, which also is sold at the Peace Food Market.

The counter display has three shelves displaying dozens of colorful blown glass pipes, including one in the shape of a skull about the size of a baseball.

The display also includes small digital scales, which could be used for many things, including weighing illegal drugs.

A handwritten sign taped to the front of the sealed glass case reads: “Pipes sold here are not intended for any illegal use.”

Simply selling pipes and other paraphernalia is legal, as long as it is not clearly intended for illegal use.

“People think it’s inappropriate, but it’s not illegal,” said School Resource Officer Coreena Behnke, who has heard about the display from students and some parents. They didn’t complain, but did ask her whether the items are legal.

Possession of drug paraphernalia is a civil infraction punishable by a $300 fine. Selling paraphernalia is a misdemeanor, and selling it to someone younger than 16 can carry a greater penalty, though it is still a misdemeanor and is likely to result in only a fine.

The market’s owners say they’re careful to check identification when they sell some products. They say they have been the target of stings in which underage youths have tried to buy cigarettes, and they have complied with the law. They also have a policy against selling energy drinks to anyone younger than 12.

They said they also have a policy to require identification to make sure that anyone who buys a pipe is 18 or older.

Haidara said there are similar pipes for sale a few blocks away, on Exchange Street. Police say there are stores that sell such merchandise in many Maine communities, though typically not so close to schools.

The owners wouldn’t say how popular the items are, but said other products are more profitable. The pipes typically sell for $10 to $25.

During school hours, the store gets frequent visits from the neighboring high school, where vending machines do not sell soda. Students come to the store to buy soft drinks and snacks. Several times a day, students younger than 18 try to buy cigarettes and are turned away, Haidara said.

In the afternoon, customers are more likely to come from the apartment buildings, or are Somalis seeking items that aren’t sold in grocery stores.

Casey Hart, a Portland High senior who is an officer in Students Against Destructive Decisions, said she has not visited the market and was unaware of the pipes or any controversy.

“I’m not really opposed to them selling the paraphernalia, but I think it’s like exploitation of adolescents to be (displaying them) near school,” she said.

She said there are enough pressures on high school kids to experiment with pot, without easy access to the paraphernalia encouraging it.

Carissa Porcaro, a sophomore at the school, and Abram Marr, a freshman, don’t think the display is worth getting excited about.

“I guess I’m fine with it. It’s really your decision,” Marr said of people who might buy the paraphernalia. “Should they be selling these items right next to a high school? Probably not.”

Alison Andreasen, the mother of a Portland High School student and a volunteer at the school, said she has mixed feelings about the display.

“Do I berate them for carrying them? No. I’m pretty liberal saying what someone can sell and can’t sell,” she said. “It concerns me that it’s … so close to the school. It doesn’t send the best message.”

But students who choose to buy such things will be able to get them somewhere, she said. “They’re not smart all the time, but they’re very resourceful.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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