Sarasota County commissioners approved an ordinance Wednesday, aimed at disrupting the local market for "spice," bath salts and other synthetic drugs.
"This is a terrible problem," said Commissioner Christine Robinson after approving the new law, which allows county law enforcement agencies to cite businesses for selling variants of synthetic marijuana, and herbs, pills or powders that mimic the high from amphetamines or opioids. Some local head shops, smoke shops and convenience stores sell those products in colorful packaging with names such as "Mr. Happy," "Zombie Killa" and "Knockout," according to a county staff report.
"It is obvious these designer drugs are made specifically to be abused," said Sarasota County Health and Human Services strategic planner Mel Thomas during the commission meeting.
According to state and Sarasota County data, 21.7% of Sarasota County high school students use synthetic marijuana, compared with 13% statewide. National substance-abuse data indicate that children aged 12 to 17 are responsible for 44% of emergency-room visits caused by the designer drug.
The new ordinance allows for prosecution of businesses for sale or individuals in possession of designer drugs and carries fines of up to $250 per package and the possible revocation of a merchant's certificate of occupancy. The ordinance also includes a provision allowing individuals to seek damages for wrongful death or injuries as a result of its violation, according to a staff memo.
"I'm concerned that we still have folks out there who are trying to market (designer drugs) to our youth, and we need to do something to try to stop that," Robinson said.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office on Monday requested inclusion of new language intended to narrow the ordinance to products that "were intended to make people high." Assistant County Attorney David Pearce expressed concern about the changes, as they could make prosecution difficult.
But, the State Attorney's Office signed off on the language, Pearce said. And commissioners approved the ordinance unanimously.
"I'm ecstatic about this ordinance," said Commissioner Carolyn Mason.
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