Johnson City declares synthetic drug sales 'public nuisance'

Gary B. Gray • Mar 2, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Two days after Washington County Commissioners passed two resolutions that jointly defined synthetic marijuana, “bath salts” and their derivatives as public nuisances, Johnson City followed suit by unanimously passing nearly identical resolutions.

However, the city also passed an additional resolution in support of pending legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly that would blanket the state with new authority to criminalize the production, sale and use of the drugs.

Johnson City now is among a growing number of local governments across Tennessee that have seen problems with the substances continually increase and have acted legally to the limits of existing options offered to them to stem the tide.

“This is similar to Washington County,” said Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry. “If we can just get the legislation to pass a law to criminalize this, it will really help us enforce the problem.”

Besides urging legislators to act quickly, the City Commission resolutions declared the “possession, production, manufacture, distribution, transporting, selling, offer of sales, trading, bartering, exchanging or purchase of baths, synthetic marijuana and other manufactured products a public nuisance detrimental to the health, welfare and safety of the city of Johnson City and its inhabitants.”

As with the county, the municipality now can exercise legal powers to shut down “businesses, occupations, callings, trades uses of property,” and all other things detrimental to the general health and well-being of residents.

State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, has been pushing for legislation to make it a felony for using bath salts, synthetic marijuana and other similar drugs. The new legislation would be called the “controlled substance analogue law.”

Shipley is hoping to get the bill passed this month, though bills traditionally do not until June.

House bill 2218 (SB 2172/Beavers) would prohibit “controlled substance analogues that have substantially the same chemical structure as a controlled substance or have a similar effect on the central nervous system as a controlled substance and punishes the offense the same as the controlled substance to which it is similar.”

Emergency room physician Dr. Somi Rikhye presented a nearly hour-long presentation to commissioners Thursday that included a description of the various drugs as well as detailed testimony describing the harmful effects of the substances.

The resolutions state that these drugs are particularly attractive to minors and young adults and are available for purchase in small packages at neighborhood stores at a minimal cost, with names being given in the common and informal language.

Some examples include “plant food, fake fertilizer, fake insect repellent, therapeutic bath salts, handcrafted soaps and herbal incense.”

The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration has determined that the consumption of these substances can have adverse effects, such as agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, elevated blood pressure, tremors, hallucinations, paranoid behavior and non-responsiveness.

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