110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Jen Horton
posted Jan 16, 2013 - 6:25:56am
The fight against synthetic drugs sold under the guise of bath salts and potpourri will soon take a big step forward in DeLand.
Late last year, the DeLand City Commission declined to regulate the substances through the city codes, because the drugs hadn’t been made illegal by state authorities.
In December, however, that changed. DeLand Police Chief Bill Ridgway told the DeLand City Commission that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had enacted an emergency rule that made 22 substances in the synthetic drugs illegal.
Bondi’s rule makes it a third-degree felony to sell, manufacture or deliver the drugs.
The first step in enforcement, Ridgway said, will be to educate the community, especially the vendors of the bath salts and potpourri, which are commonly sold in convenience stores.
Ridgway has been working with other area law-enforcement agencies, with the goal of consistent enforcement efforts countywide.
Notifying the vendors is one step in the process.
“I think we’re ready to do the official notification,” the police chief said.
There are only two agents from the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (AB&T) to cover Volusia and Seminole counties, so the notices will be given out by the DeLand Police Department’s operations division.
“This is a more complex issue than it appears. We just want to make sure we do it correctly,” Ridgway said.
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus told commissioners there can be pitfalls to a sudden prohibition. It’s going to take some time to get the product off the market, he said.
“It’s like saying cigarettes are legal today, and tomorrow they’re not,” Pleus said. “They’re very pervasive.”
Pleus predicted 98 percent of convenience stores will voluntarily comply with the prohibition once they receive the notices.
He said commissioners may want to reconsider an ordinance that would put the sale of synthetic drugs under the jurisdiction of DeLand’s code enforcement, to give the city a little more control as the drugs are eliminated from stores in the city.
If a ban on the synthetic drugs was enforced as a code-enforcement violation, the city would be able to give the vendor a warning, which would require the store to come into compliance in a given amount of time.
If the warning was ignored, the vendor would have to appear before the city’s special magistrate, who could impose a daily fine for noncompliance, hitting merchants in the wallet should they not respond to the notices by the Police Department.
City Attorney Darren Elkind said that prosecuting criminal violations of Bondi’s rule could be a lengthy process. Substances suspected of being synthetic drugs will have to be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) lab. It takes eight weeks for results to come back, Elkind said, noting that if every city in Florida sent samples of the products to the FDLE, the lab would be quickly overwhelmed.
Chief Ridgway said the notices and enforcement plans will be discussed at a meeting of the Volusia and Flagler County Police Chiefs Association later this month.
He also said at least one neighboring city is looking to mirror DeLand’s efforts to promote uniform enforcement throughout the area.
In an earlier presentation, DeLand commissioners learned that one type of the synthetic drugs is synthetic pot — also known as K2 or spice — sold as herbal incense. The drug has more intense effects than some of the other synthetics. It can cause bizarre behavior in users, and does not show up as a cannabinoid in drug tests.
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