DAVIE — The town may soon join the growing list of South Florida cities outlawing the sale of synthetic drugs — but one councilman fears Davie’s ban may be unconstitutional.
Like Sweetwater and Lauderhill, Davie wants to crack down not only on stores selling synthetic marijuana and psychoactive bath salts, but also the people buying the designer drugs.
This week, Councilman Bryan Caletka said Davie may be on the verge of approving an unconstitutional ban that won’t hold up in court.
The council approved the ban Wednesday in a 4-1 vote, with Caletka dissenting. The ban won’t take effect until a final vote Aug. 1.
Davie’s ordinance says anyone caught selling or in possession of “bath salts” or synthetic marijuana could be fined up to $5,000 and face up to 60 days in jail. The ordinance also charges violators a $200 fine to help cover the town’s administrative costs.
Caletka has several objections to the ban.
Say someone buys synthetic drugs from a store in a city where they have not been banned, then gets stopped by an officer in Davie. That person may end up spending the night in jail, Caletka says.
The town would then bear the costs of a public defender and may end up losing in court.
Davie cops wouldn’t be able to test the products on the street, because there are no field tests for synthetic drugs. Confiscated products would require expensive testing by an outside lab — another potential burden on Davie taxpayers.
“It’s not constitutional,” Caletka said. “They are jumping on a bandwagon just to say that they did it. They are making a criminal law and they don’t have the authority to do that. Cities cannot put criminal laws on the books, only the state and federal government can.”
On Thursday, Town Attorney John Rayson said Caletka may have a point. Rayson is still researching the issue, but said the town may have to resort to a ban on sales alone.
Danny Stallone, the legal adviser for the Davie Police Department, said Davie’s ordinance is similar to the ban approved by Miami-Dade County on July 3. But Miami-Dade’s ban pertains only to the sale and display of synthetic drugs — not possession.
Coral Springs commissioners embraced a ban on synthetic drugs Tuesday, but like many cities stopped short of outlawing possession, said City Attorney J.J. Hearn.
In Coral Springs, the civil penalties for first-time offenders caught selling or displaying herbal incense or bath salts start at $250 and increase with repeat violations.
Lauderhill outlawed possession of synthetic drugs when it approved a ban June 25.
“I can’t answer to the constitutionality of it,” Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan said. “I requested a law to be drafted, and I rely on the attorneys as to the legality of it. I assumed what they gave us was constitutional.”
Caletka asked the town attorney what would happen if he brought synthetic weed to a town meeting for the purpose of showing the council.
Rayson told Caletka the synthetic pot would be confiscated and he could be fined for violating a town ordinance.
Caletka requested delaying Wednesday’s vote until Rayson could research whether Davie’s ordinance was legal.
But Councilman Marlon Luis urged moving ahead.
“These are dangerous things,” Luis said. “They’re being sold in our town. I don’t really care about the constitutionality. I’m more worried about the kids.”
Luis said they needed to do something to protect people from using a chemical concoction that might send them to the hospital.
People smoking synthetic marijuana can experience rapid heart rate, anxiety, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, renal failure and, in extreme cases, death.
People snorting bath salts can experience extreme paranoia, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, high body temperature, vivid hallucinations, hostility and aggression.
Federal and state officials have banned specific compounds used to make synthetic drugs, but chemists tweak the compounds to stay one step ahead of the law.