Volusia County deputies crack down on synthetic marijuana


VOLUSIA COUNTY —
It’s a dangerous and harmful high that had been increasingly easy to find, marketed under a variety of unusual and exotic names ranging from Cloud Nine, Mind Trip and Mr. Happy to Mardi Gras, Scooby Snax and Maui Wowie. But what these synthetic drugs all have in common is that they’re illegal under an emergency order enacted by the state last month. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi outlawed 22 chemicals commonly used in the manufacture of synthetic drugs in the wake of their growing abuse and links to serious health problems.

To ensure compliance with the law, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office recently organized inspections at more than 170 businesses around the county — convenience stores, smoke shops, liquor stores and other retailers. The businesses were reminded of the new law and the penalty for selling or possessing the banned products — a 5-year prison sentence and fine of up to $5,000. And for stores that still had the illegal products on their shelves — the inspections turned up 15 violations — the owners were told that this would be their one and only warning. The next time banned products are found in their stores, enforcement action will be taken.

It’s all part of an ongoing effort to rid the community of synthetic drugs known as K2, Spice, bath salts and herbal potpourri that have resulted in users ending up in emergency rooms all over the country. Their consumption has been known to cause hallucinations, seizures, tremors, nausea, panic attacks and even psychotic episodes.

Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, who organized the inspections, said synthetic drugs are just as dangerous as the real ones, and in some cases even more so.

“These are extremely unsafe substances that are causing a great deal of harm,” Johnson said. “I’m very pleased that the state has taken action, and we’re going to use all of our available resources and continue working with local police departments to make sure that the law is vigorously enforced.”

The inspections wrapped up last week, with a total of 172 businesses getting visits from law enforcement officers. Deputies inspected 109 businesses in the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction, while police departments in New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Port Orange, Daytona Beach Shores and Ponce Inlet inspected another 63 businesses. The businesses were given a one-page notice explaining the visit and then asked if they had any of the banned products. If they did, they were given a one-time amnesty and the opportunity to voluntarily surrender the goods to law enforcement. Of the 15 stores that had banned products, seven voluntarily surrendered them to officers. Most of others said they would either destroy the products or return them to their distributor for a refund, while a few clerks said they would need to talk to their bosses first.

The businesses were told that officers would be back to make sure that they follow through and remain in compliance with the law.

“No enforcement action will be taken against merchants who surrender and/or destroy these products in a prompt fashion,” the notice read. “If, however, the merchant chooses to ignore this warning and continues selling products containing the listed (banned) chemicals, vigorous enforcement action will be taken including arrest for a felony.”

Johnson said synthetic drugs are so problematic because of their appeal to young people and the unknown impact and chemical qualities of their contents.

“Many users are tricked into thinking that they’re a safer alternative to other illegal drugs,” Johnson said. “But using synthetic drugs is like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know if you’re going to end up in the hospital, or even the morgue, after using this stuff. If our efforts save even one life, the inspections and enforcement initiatives will have been well worth the effort.”

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