Cities joining legal crusade to ban fake pot, ‘bath salts’

  • Cities are joining a legal crusade to ban bath salts and synthetic marijuana.
Cities are joining a legal crusade to ban bath salts and synthetic marijuana. (Sarah Dussault, Sun Sentinel )
June 28, 2012|By Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel

SUNRISE — Synthetic marijuana has been in the cross hairs of cities waging their own war against synthetic drugs.

Now it’s bath salts, the designer drug meant to mimic cocaine.

The ban movement was already under way when the world learned of the gruesome “Causeway Cannibal” attack.

Police initially suspected Rudy Eugene may have been on psychoactive bath salts when he attacked a homeless man in Miami on May 26, chewing away part of his face before being shot and killed by an officer. Toxicology reports released this week found only marijuana in his system.

But the May 26 incident gave momentum to the ban effort, with city officials pointing to growing evidence that the fake drugs may be more dangerous than the real.

Earlier this week, Lauderhill became the first city in Broward to ban bath salts. Commissioners approved a ban on synthetic marijuana the same night.

“It is a national problem,” Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan said. “These synthetic drugs are just a way to get around the laws against illegal drugs. But they are making people sick. Some of them can be outright poison.”

Even if the so-called “Causeway Cannibal” wasn’t on designer drugs, that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous, Kaplan said.

On June 14, a Texas man high on synthetic pot attacked a family dog, tearing away at its flesh. Before killing the pet, the man got down on all fours and chased a neighbor while barking and growling.

Bath salts and synthetic marijuana are sold online and behind the counter at convenience stores and gas stations.

“It’s scary it’s available down the street in a local store,” Kaplan said. “Some kid could walk in and buy it like he’s buying a candy bar.”

Kaplan said he was glad to see cities step forward to ban herbal incense and bath salts, but the state needs to move quickly as well.

“We’ve got over 500 cities in Florida,” he said. “Are they all going to pass bans?”

Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Hollywood, Margate and North Lauderdale are planning to ban both designer drugs. The ban in Broward County would apply countywide, except in cities with conflicting rules on the books.

“If one city bans it, they’ll all come to the cities that don’t ban it,” Margate Mayor Pam Donovan said. “I don’t want them doing it on our city. We have to make it safe for our kids.”

In May, Sweetwater became the first city in the state to ban the sale of all incense that’s not on a stick in an effort to outlaw fake weed.

Sunrise followed suit on June 12, becoming the first city in Broward County — and the second in the state — to ban synthetic marijuana. Sunrise plans to outlaw bath salts in July after giving initial approval to a ban Tuesday.

“Those who manufacture and sell these dangerous cocktails of poisons are endangering not only those who take them, but also the public, police officers responding to calls and fire-rescue personnel called to help,” Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan said.

Deerfield Beach banned synthetic marijuana on June 19. Cities considering a similar ban include Coral Springs, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Lighthouse Point, Hallandale Beach, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach and Tamarac.

The DEA has banned the sale of the chemicals used to make both designer drugs. Florida is among several states that have issued a similar ban.

Manufacturers have managed to sidestep the federal and statewide ban by changing the chemical makeup of the products.

Exposure to synthetic marijuana resulted in 2,906 calls to poison control centers across the nation in 2010; 6,959 calls in 2011; and 1,901 calls in the first three months of 2012. Exposure to bath salts resulted in 304 calls in 2010; 6,138 calls in 2011; and 1,007 calls in the first four months of 2012.

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