City Council members Thursday gave police the green light to crack down on the sale and use of synthetic marijuana and other synthesized drugs that are commonly sold in convenience stores and some gas stations.
The council unanimously approved a new ordinance that bans the sale, possession and production of the drugs commonly called spice and bathsalts intended to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as marijuana and amphetamines.
The ban is in response to requests from police leaders who say spice has become the drug of choice among the city’s homeless population often making users violent and uncontrollable. The ordinance does not criminalize the drugs but users could now face arrest and a fine of up to $500.
City of Tampa leaders are set to adopt a similar ban on April 18. Thursday, the Tampa City Council gave its first approval to a citywide ban on the sale of synthetic drugs.
St. Petersburg City Council members hope the ban will help reduce the number of homeless people congregating at Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, where police say drug use is rampant and that people openly use and sell synthetic drugs.
“This is having a devastating effect,” said Council Member Steve Kornell. “Kids are in Williams Park because there are drugs there, because they’re readily available.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and state lawmakers have banned dozens of chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs in an attempt to outlaw them.
But manufacturers have continually side-stepped those laws by tinkering with their formulas. Additionally, police have to send drug samples to a lab to be analyzed, meaning weeks often pass before they can make an arrest.
To overcome that, the city’s ordinance outlaws general synthetic drug products, rather than the chemicals in them. Pasco and Hillsborough counties have already adopted similar ordinances.
Council Member Wengay Newton supported the ban but warned that it would merely drive use of the drug underground.
“I don’t think people are going to stop,” he said. “Instead of being two bucks at that store, they’ll probably get $10 or $20. They’ll take it off the counter, but kids will still come for it.”
Synthetic drugs use a wide range of herbal mixtures and chemical compounds to produce a similar high to marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Under brand names such as “K2” and “Moon Rocks,” the drugs are marketed toward teenagers and young adults. They are sold openly in so-called head shops and gas stations. The products are labeled “not for human consumption.”
There have been no studies on synthetic drugs’ effects on the brain. Although some users report feeling a relaxed high, others experience extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, according to the drug abuse institute.
A 2010 study by the Drug Abuse Warning Network linked synthetic marijuana to more than 11,000 emergency room visits nationwide. Three-quarter of those visits were people between 12 and 29.
“I hope we send a message out this will not be tolerated in our community,” said Council Member Bill Dudley. “We’re going to do everything we can to protect our young.”
In other action the City Council: