Washington Co. Commission takes tougher stance on sale, manufacture of synthetic drugs

Gary B. Gray • Feb 27, 2012 at 10:36 PM

Selling bath salts and synthetic marijuana in Washington County still is not a criminal offense, but two resolutions passed unanimously Monday by the county commissioners defined the situation as “a public health crisis” and made the manufacture and sale of these compounds a public nuisance.

“This basically puts everyone on notice that Washington County can and will act,” said County Attorney John Rambo. “The county now has the power to regulate nuisances and to declare synthetic drugs as a nuisance. If declared a public nuisance, the county can fine every person each time they create the nuisance. And if there is proof that sales are going on, an injunction can be filed and a judge can shut down that business.”

A fully packed chamber inside the courthouse in Jonesborough erupted in applause, not once but several times.

Commissioners first passed a resolution allowing the county to define a nuisance as anything representing a clear and present danger that is detrimental to the health, morals, comfort and safety of Washington County residents. That now also holds true for loud cars and motorcycles or barking dogs, for example. The second resolution states that even with the change in chemical compounds, it is necessary to declare the use, sale and distribution of synthetic marijuana, bath salts, and their derivatives, to be potentially life-threatening.

Currently, any person violating the state law pertaining to “prohibited substances” faces a $50 civil fine. But the resolutions allow the county to bring legal action to a court of law and to pursue the closing down of any established business or structure where the illegal activity is taking place.

“All I can say is I encourage everyone to call their legislators,” said First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark, who serves Washington, Carter, Johnson and Unicoi counties. “As a prosecutor, I can’t change state law. Right now it’s not a criminal charge, but we’re working on that.”

The declaration of public nuisance and/or further judicial proceedings apply only to the inhabitants of the unincorporated areas of Washington County, but Commissioner Pete Speropulos popped up after the vote to both praise and challenge.

“I want to thank you,” he said to commissioners. “There’s been a lot of things we’ve disagreed on. Not this. I’m going to ask the city of Johnson City to see if they will pass the same resolutions we passed.”

Another ovation.

Commissioners also unanimously confirmed Jonesborough native Ned Irwin as the county’s first archivist. In late January, Irwin was unanimously chosen by the Washington County Public Records Commission to be recommended to the full commission.

Irwin, 57, has been East Tennessee State University’s archivist since 1994 and has worked as a specialist in the field for 25 years, including a stint at the Chattanooga Public Library.

Commissioners also appointed Pat Wolfe and David Tomita to serve as members of the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board.

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