Ban in the works

Published 9:46 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

As communities around the state face a problem with synthetic drugs, local officials and state legislators are working to ban their sale.

Last month, Brewton city officials began working to create a resolution banning the sale of the fake marijuana within the city limits.

State Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, has announced he is planning to introduce legislation that will ban certain compounds used to make the substances creating problems throughout the area.

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Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said the most harmful part of the drug is its availability to anyone — regardless of age.

“Synthetic cannabinoid is easier to obtain than regular marijuana, can be sold to children of any age and does not show up on drug tests,” Smith said. “Children as young as 6 years old have been hospitalized for problems related to smoking synthetic cannabinoid. These chemicals are extremely dangerous and they need to be banned. It is a matter of public safety.”

With no legal age for purchase required when buying the substances, Smith said the availability is as much a part of the problem as the substance itself.

“These substances are mostly being sold at convenience stores that are locally operated,” Smith said. “We are doing a kind of dance with this stuff. As soon as we have the ability to charge somebody with it, they modify the ingredients to get around the law.”

Smith said some arrests were made on these kinds of substances in the past before changes in the formulation of the drugs was changed.

“We have been hearing more about this lately,” Smith said. “We have made arrests on the old formula under the law before they changed the chemical makeup. We have not had a bad episode with the current formulations of the substances — but it’s just a matter of time.”

Although Smith said county officials can’t impose an ordinance prohibiting the sale of the substances, having municipal and state officials take the step would benefit everyone.
“Having a city ordinance to prohibit the sale would be a great thing,” Smith said. “Those merchants are after a profit margin with little concern for anything else.”

Keahey said he has received numerous calls from school principals and teachers who believe the effects of synthetic cannabinoid are even more severe than those caused by the use of traditional marijuana.

“There is a growing concern for our children, not only in southwest Alabama, but all across the state,” Keahey said.

A bill similar to the one Keahey plans to introduce in the 2012 legislative session was introduced in the 2011 session, but that bill never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Keahey said he believed his bill would have a better chance of passing in 2012.

Statistics recently released from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Alabama received 67 calls from people who have smoked synthetic marijuana since October 2010. Of those, more than 26 percent were children or teenagers.

Smith said officers with the department have been aware of the substances and have taken the time to speak with business owners about its dangers.

“We have been talking to business owners on an individual basis,” Smith said. “We want them to know that they are going to lose more business than they can generate with the sale of these items.”

Smith said the manufacturers of these substances, as well as the merchants who sell it, need to consider the danger they put people in when these products are bought and consumed.

“If I were a merchant, I’d be looking at being in business for a long time instead of just looking for a quick dollar now,” Smith said. “We are going to do what we have to do to make sure our children won’t be exposed to the dangers of these substances.”

Smith said the protection of the citizens of Escambia County is his main objective and keeping a close eye on the merchants who sell these products as well as those who manufacture or purchase the substances.

“We are not going to allow someone to skirt the law in order to poison our children,” Smith said.  “We are going to work smart and work hard to protect our citizens.”