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Gregory, Group Threaten Boycott Over Cigarette Papers

July 29, 1991

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Kroger Co. agreed Monday to change its policy on the sale of cigarette papers after anti-drug activists led by former comedian Dick Gregory threatened a nationwide boycott of the supermarket chain.

Gregory and the other activists said the rolling papers are used to smoke marijuana. Gregory and members of a Little Rock neighborhood patrol organization planned to meet with Kroger officials in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday. If the dispute isn’t resolved, a boycott could begin immediately, Gregory said in an early afternoon news conference.

He promised to use his experience as an activist and his ties to black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to ″wear Kroger out.″

Marnette Perry, vice president of merchandising for Kroger’s Delta division in Memphis, later said the company decided it will ″require the purchase of tobacco with the purchase of tobacco papers.″

Signs stating the new policy will be displayed in the stores, she said. Rolling papers have been available in Kroger stores without tobacco purchases.

The policy change will affect a total of 103 stores in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama, she said. Ms. Perry said there had been no decision made at the corporate level. Kroger is based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

″We applaud Mr. Gregory’s intentions but we do really disagree with his solution in the paper issue. But it’s a very small issue for us to require the purchase of tobacco and tobacco papers together,″ she said.

Gregory and other members of the neighborhood patrol group called DIGNITY couldn’t be reached for comment later Monday on the policy change.

During the news conference, Gregory and state Rep. Bill Walker, D-Little Rock, said they would push for state and federal legislation to forbid the sale of cigarette papers unless attached to tobacco.

Walker is a member of DIGNITY - Do In God’s Name Incredible Things Yourself - a neighborhood patrol group.

Ms. Perry said the sale of rolling papers is minimal, compared to tobacco. She declined to release specific sales figures.

″Our policy is if we don’t sell it, they may go somewhere else and perhaps buy some groceries, too,″ she said.

Kroger issued a three-paragraph statement Friday, saying the papers ″are legal and have a legitimate use.″

Ms. Perry said Kroger has a history of involvement in anti-drug programs. The company has 1,100 stores nationwide.

Gregory and four members of DIGNITY were found guilty Friday of occupying a store in a drug-ravaged neighborhood south of the state Capitol. They had demanded last Tuesday that the owner remove from his shelves rolling papers and pipes they said are used for smoking crack and marijuana.

Gregory was hospitalized last week for dehydration in the midst of a three- week fast to protest drug abuse.