Hillsborough taking aim at synthetic pot
TAMPA - Hillsborough County is making another push to get synthetic marijuana products off the shelves of convenience stores and other retail outlets. On Wednesday, county commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance that makes selling the toxic drugs a civil offense that can be punished by fines as high as $500 per package, per day. Enforcement of the program will be handled by the county’s Code Enforcement Department and Consumer Protection Agency. Synthetic marijuana is openly marketed to teens and young adults in brightly colored packaging with catchy brand names such as K2, Spice and Mr. Smiley. Though meant to mimic the high obtained from THC, the intoxicating chemical in organic marijuana, synthetic pot can also cause anxiety, nausea, vomiting, elevated blood pressure and hallucinations. It can stay in users’ systems for weeks.Commissioner Les Miller, who asked the county attorney’s office in July to draw up an ordinance prohibiting the substance’s sale, said use of the drug is “running rampant.” “Hopefully this will deter the sale and manufacture of these drugs in Hillsborough County,” Miller said. After reviewing laws dealing with synthetic marijuana around the country, the county attorney’s office determined it would be too difficult to enforce a ban on the substance with criminal penalties. The state Legislature has outlawed 142 different chemical compounds used in synthetic marijuana, but the manufacturers get around the law by tweaking the chemical composition. Instead, the county will use a list provided by the sheriff’s office of stores known to sell the product. The stores and their owners will be notified by mail to get the synthetic pot off their shelves or face fines. Code enforcement officers will visit the stores to see if owners have complied. “Every time we’re out there, if they have a banned substance on their shelves, we intend to cite them,” said Kevin Jackson, chief investigator with the Consumer Protection Agency. Jackson said the letters will start going out in the next few weeks. Tampa officials also will be cracking down on stores that sell the substance inside the city limits, Jackson said. The ordinance banning synthetic marijuana is on the county’s website, www.hillsboroughcounty.org. Jackson said the county welcomes tips from residents about stores selling the banned products. They can call Code Enforcement at 274-6600 or Consumer Protection at 903-3430.