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Updated: 11/06/2013 08:00:03AM

Synthetic drugs still pose threat to communities

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The continuing availability of over-the-counter concoctions known generically as synthetic marijuana is still troubling law enforcement and families throughout the state and the region.

In one case, a 25-year-old was arrested after he allegedly doused an infant’s head and face with Windex. The man had been drinking and smoking a designer drug called “K2” earlier in the day, A 23-year-old woman also was charged with aggravated assault when she allegedly tried to run over a sheriff’s deputy with her car on a golf course. She had allegedly been smoking a product called “Diesel.”

People are hospitalized every day here in Polk County after apparently using synthetic marijuana. Our hospital and mental heatlth here will tell you that this is a problem that is getting worse, not better.

Despite efforts by the state and federal governments to ban the substances, synthetic designer drugs sold as incense, bath salts and spices are still available in gas stations and convenience stores throughout the region. The stuff can be very potent and dangerous, acting as either stimulants, opiates or hallucinogens, depending on the mix.

The Florida Legislature passed a synthetic pot ban in 2011 and updated the law in 2013. The federal Food and Drug Administration Safety Bill also included a ban last spring. Still, manufacturers have managed to skirt the laws by altering the chemical compounds slightly. The difficulty of enforcing and prosecuting the law can be difficult.

One promising new tack is a model local ordinance already in effect in Pasco County. It shifts the focus of enforcement to marketing and labeling, rather than specific chemical compounds,

The ordinance says you can’t make, possess, display or sell synthetic or “misbranded” drugs that are actually intended for human consumption. It lists names: Spice, K2, Pot-Pourri, Brain Storm, Purple Wave and dozens more. It establishes packaging restrictions to minimize wiggle room, but permits exemptions when specific “bona fide” uses can be proved.

The ordinance allows inspections of retail stores by police and code enforcement officers. Citations could be $250 or more per day for each violation. Landlords could be held responsible. The ordinance would makes it possible to revoke certificates of occupancy. Fines and enforcement are determined by a special magistrate, like other code enforcement matters.

If the threat of enforcement alone is not enough to stop stores from doing the wrong thing, then perhaps financial penalities will work.

It has worked in Pasco County, and it could work across the state. To us, this seems an appropriate response to a harmful situation, one that has been absurdly difficult to address otherwise.

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