BROOKSVILLE - Brooksville City Council voted unanimously Monday night to pass an ordinance banning synthetic drugs.
Anyone who possesses, sells or distributes synthetic drugs - often referred to as bath salts, incense, potpourri, "Spice" or "K2" - can be cited for a code violation, but not necessarily a criminal act.
Per the ordinance, violators can be fined up to $250 per day for the first offense, and repeat offenders can be fined $500 per day. A fine of up to $5,000 can be imposed by a hearing officer who determines a violation "irreparable or irreversible in nature."
Synthetic cannabinoids are "mixtures of herbs and spices that are typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana," according to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the ordinance's summary. Florida Statute 893 has identified some synthetic cannabinoids as Schedule I controlled substances, but the chemical and molecular structures are easily altered by manufacturers.
The ordinance names nearly 130 different "common brand names" for synthetic drugs, including "Fake Weed," "Green Buddha" and "Mr. and Mrs. Marley."
Brooksville Police Chief George Turner said the ordinance allows his department to get it off convenience store shelves, limit the sale and possession and "send the product off to be determined if it fits in the criminal statutes."
In order for a suspected synthetic drug to be seized, the product must have at least two qualifying factors, such as being marketed for a different use than intended, resembling illegal street drugs, misleading directions and containing ingredients that imitate controlled substances. Per the ordinance, the seized synthetic drugs can be sent to a state certified private laboratory for testing at the violator's expense. If the products are found to contain substances banned by Florida law, violators could also face criminal charges.
Surrounding counties have recently passed synthetic drug ordinances of their own, with Pasco County notably fining offenders $500 per synthetic drug packet seized.
Before voting, Councilman Joe Johnston III asked whether someone found with 10 packets of a synthetic drug would be committing one or 10 violations.
"My interpretation is the hearing officer can decide," Turner said, adding his department would allow for some leeway on the first offense.
"Obviously on the second or subsequent offense we would write it per package or whatever we need to do," Turner said.
Johnston added the ordinance is similar to red-light camera enforcement, as an effort to raise awareness.
"The goal is to ensure compliance, not to be punitive," Johnston said.
"Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. That's what were doing here," said City Attorney Jim Fisher.
Fusher explained he drafted the ordinance with Brooksville's children in mind, but also Brooksville residents' Eighth Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
Fisher explained that law enforcement usually seizes hundreds of synthetic drug packets.
"Multiply 100 by $250, and we don't even know if it is a felony yet," Fisher said, adding the ordinance is aimed at changing the behavior of those who sell the drugs.
"If someone is so devious they would allow it to be on their shelves a second time, we're going to get in their wallet."
No community members offered input during the public hearing leading up to the roll call vote.