MOUNT VERNON — A little more than a year ago, a state crackdown on a group of “designer drugs” was being celebrated. These compounds, referred to as bath salts, Spice and synthetic marijuana were finally illegal to sell over the counter.
The legal selling of those drugs, even though labeled “not for human consumption,” wasn’t fooling anybody. Law enforcement finally had a tool to use against these drugs and their nasty effects.
But what made them legal in the first place was that they were not chemically the same as the banned substances.
Mount Vernon City Council passed an emergency ordinance Monday night casting a wider net to encompass the latest in designer drugs.
Mount Vernon Law Director Chip McConville prepared an ordinance for the city of Mount Vernon and briefed city council on the subject at a short public hearing Monday evening prior to the legislative session.
He said local government can be more nimble and quicker to react than state government, and as the chemists for the drug dealers come up with new compounds to skirt the law, it is easier for the local community to modify its laws than it is for the state legislature to try to respond to the changes.
McConville said these synthetic drugs were five to 10 times as strong as organic marijuana and can cause health concerns that include high heart rate and high levels of anxiety.
The ordinance adds more classes of drugs to the bath salts/Spice/synthetic marijuana family. For a while, the law might keep ahead of chemists coming up with compounds that don’t fall under the definitions of the drugs banned in the 2011 legislation.
“Creative chemistry stays one step ahead of the FDA and DEA,” McConville said. “... You don’t have to go very far in Knox County to find places where these things are sold.”
The ordinance started locally when a Mount Vernon Police Department detective approached McConville regarding legislation passed in Mansfield. Ontario and Shelby have also passed similar legislation.
Ontario Police Chief Randy Smith said that has been happening again. They have arrested people for drugs, sent the drugs to the Mansfield police lab for analysis and the lab reports would come back saying they are not the same as what was banned in that legislation of a year ago, and the police would have to drop the case.
So what Ontario did, as have Mansfield and Shelby, is to expand the definition of banned chemical compounds in a local ordinance. Smith said the new additions to the list of “synthetic cannabinoids” was based on recommendations from Mansfield lab director Tony Timbasko, based on what substances the lab has been seeing in this area.
The Ontario ordinance that went into effect in April.
“We got a year out of the old law,” before the chemists came up with the new compounds, said Smith, “If we can get a year of two, I’ll be happy.”
And if it starts happening again that the drugs don’t meet the definition of what’s illegal, council will modify the city ordinance again.
McConville said the home chemists are “clever” and when they create new substances “we will come back to the drawing board.”
Because the legislation was passed as an emergency, it becomes law when signed by Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis.
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