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City legal staff looking into synthetic drug ban

December 20th, 2011 10:11 pm by Gary B. Gray

City legal staff looking into synthetic drug ban

Vampire Blood, 7H, K2, Diablo, Exotica, Spice.
A drug by any other name is still a drug, so officials are trying to pass legislation that would make it a felony to use any synthetic drug or “bath salts” regardless of the chemical ingenuity used to continually alter their composition to sidestep the law.
Early this month Kingsport, Bristol and Sullivan County passed a ban on legal synthetic drugs, making the sale, purchase and use of bath salts and synthetic marijuana a violation of city and or/county code. But many are saying the $50 civil fine plus court costs are a drop in the bucket considering the money being made by manufacturers.
Johnson City does not have an ordinance banning these substances. But City Manager Pete Peterson said the city’s Associate Legal Counsel Jim Epps IV has been asked to begin looking into whether a local ordinance here would have any teeth.
A small fine may be nothing more than an inconvenience to back room chemists who merely create new formulas that are not defined in local government ordinances, Peterson said.
“Mr. Epps has been charged with looking at this from a legal perspective,” he said. “Do we need it? How would the law be worded, and would it be effective? Tennessee enacted legislation this spring, but what’s happened is the manufacturers change the composition of the substance so that they’re no longer illegal. But doing something locally is not the real answer to this thing.”
Peterson said he supports legislation that’s being assembled by State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, that would make it a felony for using bath salts, synthetic marijuana and other similar drugs. It would be called the “controlled substance analogue law.”
“We need the state to create a law that would make this a criminal offense,” Peterson said. “Tony Shipley is drafting a bill that would do that. A fine in municipal court doesn’t show up on your record. Plus, the places making this stuff are pulling in $8,000 to $10,000 a day. A $50 fine is not going to be enough to deter the problem.”
Shipley, who’s been working with local government officials and judges in Kingsport and Bristol to help come up with this piece of legislation, is hoping the bill will be passed by early March.
“We are looking at some things here (local level),” said Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry. “But I really suggest we hold off and see what the state’s going to do. We’re not seeing a lot of it here in Johnson City yet. But it’s like a lot of things, it will work its way here.”
Synthetic cannabinoids, which are a groups of substances structurally related to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the chemical in marijuana that creates a “high” — are used to produce a similar experience.
The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration outlawed the substances in March, and more than 40 states have passed laws banning them. Last year, Tennessee legislators banned synthetic products marketed as incense (K2 and Spice), and this year lawmakers banned “bath salts,” which are unlike the legitimate salts sold in specialty stores and can produce an effect that mimics methamphetamine.
The Johnson City Commission talked last week about the importance of dealing with synthetic drugs.
This year’s version of the Tri-Cities Joint Legislative Policy shared by Kingsport and Bristol will be sent to state legislators Jan. 6. It states that the over-the-counter synthetic drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana are proliferating communities and jeopardizing the health and safety of the public. Peterson said he hoped the legislature would adopt broader laws, such as those in place in Virginia, that ban any formulas designed to emulate illegal recreational drugs.

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