Daytona Beach is poised to become the first Volusia County municipality to crack down on synthetic marijuana and stimulants masquerading as potpourri, bath salts, incense and even treats for kids.
At their meeting Wednesday night, city commissioners will take a final vote on a measure that would make it illegal for anyone in Daytona Beach to sell, distribute or display the synthetic drugs that are usually labeled as bath salts or herbal incense.
With state and federal laws not yet making some of the substances in the products illegal, the measure would make it a code violation to have the synthetic drug cocktails in Daytona Beach businesses and to try to sell them in the city.
Supporters of the crackdown hope the future brings new measures that will make it a crime punishable by more than a maximum $500 fine to peddle the products that can mimic the highs of pot, methamphetamine and cocaine.
“It’s a good first step,” said Mayor Glenn Ritchey. “I’d like to see more teeth in it.”
Ritchey said the city and entire state need to stay a step ahead of synthetic drugs, with synthetic heroin already in other countries and probably headed to the United States.
“I think it’s only the beginning with bath salts and we need to be very cognizant in the future how we’ll address this,” Ritchey said. “This is really only the tip of the iceberg. (Drug dealers) will look for loopholes, so we need to look for ways to close all the loopholes.”
Holly Hill and Daytona Beach Shores are slated to take final votes next week on similar measures banning synthetic drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Ormond Beach will take an initial vote Wednesday on a synthetic drug measure, and other local cities including Port Orange, New Smyrna Beach and Edgewater are moving toward votes, too, said Mary Swiderski, executive director of the Volusia Council of Governments.
DeLand also is looking into the issue, Swiderski said. In Flagler County, Palm Coast and Bunnell have already outlawed synthetic drugs.
VCOG has been pushing area cities to ban the synthetic drugs until VCOG and other organizations can lobby the Legislature next year to pass an aggressive, comprehensive law that would wage war on unregulated synthetic drugs in Florida. The state has already declared 42 substances illegal, but drug dealers can tweak their compounds and add substances that haven’t been declared illegal yet, Swiderski said.
Users of the drugs are ingesting things such as nail polish remover, said Swiderski, who’s particularly passionate about the issue because both of her adult children have battled addictions.
“We could end up with a lost generation,” she said.
Daytona Beach’s measure contains language that attempts to be more sweeping to get ahead of illicit drug manufacturers, said City Attorney Marie Hartman.
Daytona Beach’s ordinance focuses on bath salts and herbal incense. If commissioners adopt the ordinance, the city won’t be going after drugs and substances approved by the FDA and available with a valid prescription.
Daytona Beach’s code enforcement officers also won’t be hunting for bath salts that don’t contain synthetic chemical stimulants, according to city records.
City officials will be looking for ingredients and packaging that indicates or suggests that the substances mimic the effects of marijuana or stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines.
The bath salts can be sold as crystals, powder, liquid, tablets or capsules. Herbal incense can be sold in leaves, powder or granular form.
A person or business cited for a code violation involving one of the substances could face a civil penalty of $250 on an initial violation. If they contest the citation, they could wind up with penalties of up to $500 for each violation.
City Commissioner Edith Shelley, who urged fellow commissioners to consider a synthetic drug ordinance, said she’s particularly appalled by the products being sold in colorful packets with pictures of cartoon characters such as Scooby-Doo.
The products are often sold in convenience stores and tobacco shops, Shelley and other local officials said, giving kids and young adults easy access. And many of the substances aren’t caught in drug tests, Swiderski and others said.
Synthetic drugs have picked up in popularity over the past year, but Ritchey said “it’s not exploding in our area. It’s sort of stabilized.”
Shelley said the danger of the drugs became even more apparent to her when she met a local man who told her his teenage son nearly died after ingesting what the father believes was synthetic cocaine.
“The man walked in and the son was unconscious,” said Shelley, who noted the child was about 13 or 14. “When you meet someone who goes through something like that you realize we need to do everything we can to try to prevent this.”