San Bernardino County Ordinance Aims to Stop Sale of Synthetic Drugs

The ordinance aims to close a loophole by allowing for enforcement based on marketing, price, sales location, warning labels and visual similarity to street drugs.

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    Synthetic drugs are often sold illegally in smoke shops and gas stations.

    The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday that would give the sheriff’s department more authority to curb synthetic drug sales in the county.

    San Bernardino Sheriff's Cpl. Lolita Harper said the new ordinance goes beyond the current California penal code, which limits its definition of synthetic drugs to five chemicals. Harper said that in reality, more than 60 chemicals in combination can go into the substances.

    "People are skirting the law because of a technicality," Harper said.

    Synthetic drugs, in this case, means the substances more commonly known as "spice" or "bath salts."

    Spice refers to a mix of herbs sprayed with synthetic chemicals that is usually smoked. Bath salts consist of synthetic chemicals in powder or crystal form that are usually snorted or injected, officials said.

    Harper said the ordinance aims to close a loophole by allowing for enforcement based on marketing, price, sales location, warning labels and visual similarity to street drugs.

    This means although a substance may be labeled as "window cleaner," if it is sold in a smoke shop, is more expensive than normal cleaner, doesn’t look like normal cleaner and is labeled with "not for purchase by minors," it could still be judged as an illicit substance by sheriff's deputies.

    The ordinance also includes penalties for business owners selling the substances including fines, misdemeanor charges and the possible loss of a business license.

    The sheriff’s department said the illicit substances are commonly marketed to young adults and packaged using bright colors and cartoon characters.

    "There are some with the Superman emblem or with Scooby Doo," Harper said. "We actually saw a location where (synthetic drugs) were being displayed along with candy."

    Harper said the research currently available on synthetic drugs is problematic because much of it is anecdotal.

    "There is no real testing for synthetic drugs," Harper said. "The tests that exist are new, expensive and may not be readily available to hospitals."

    The sheriff’s department said for this reason, abuse tends to run rampant among those who are subject to standard drug tests, like military personnel.

    Earlier this year, NBC4 reported that synthetic drugs may have been linked to the suicide of a 20-year-old man in San Bernardino County.

    Kimberley Plumley, of Victorville, said her son’s addiction to spice contributed to his death.

    According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, 60 percent of synthetic drug abuse cases reported to poison control centers nationwide involved users age 25 or younger.

    "These drugs are affecting two segments of the population that deserve the most protection: our children and the brave men and women who serve in our country's armed forces," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement.

    McMahon added that the county ordinance can be used as a template for other law enforcement agencies in the area.

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