BROOKSVILLE - Hernando became the latest county in the Tampa Bay area to clamp down on synthetic drugs when county commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to pass an ordinance prohibiting their sale and manufacture.
Pasco County passed a similar ordinance last year and Hillsborough County followed suit this month. The Brooksville City Council in July voted unanimously to pass an ordinance banning its sale.
"This is another example of the county commissioners, the county attorney's office and my office working together for the good of our citizens," Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in an email. "This ordinance is another viable tool in our toolbox when we find a business that attempts to put profits above public safety."
The ordinance states that offenders will be fined no more than $500 and face jail time not to exceed 60 days or both.
County Commissioner Dave Russell said synthetic drug manufacturers and retailers "are constantly morphing and changing" their formulations to skirt the laws and exist legally.
"State legislation doesn't cover all the bases in terms of what is allowed or what shouldn't be allowed on store shelves," Russell said. "What we've done is just close the gap in terms of what constitutes a dangerous drug."
"Currently, too many people see these products on store shelves and believe there is nothing wrong with them
"That's the problem," Russell said. "There is something wrong with it."
Brooksville's ordinance states that 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."
Pasco County fines offenders $500 per synthetic drug packet seized.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office had asked county commissioners to draft a county ordinance and both entities provided input on the wording.
Specifically, the new ordinance will "prohibit the sale, or display for sale, of synthetic cannabinoid herbal incense and contraband bath salts that mimic illegal drugs."
Law enforcement said the use of synthetic marijuana, also known as "spice," is a major problem in Hernando County, which ranks among the highest in the state.
The 2012 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey found 18 percent of Hernando County middle school and high school students used spice sometime in their lifetime. That compares to 13 percent statewide.
In 2011, only 3.3 percent of high school students reported using synthetic marijuana in the past 30 days. Between 2011 and 2012, both lifetime and past 30-day rates increased 1.1 and 1 percentage points, respectively.
Blends of herbs and synthetic chemical compounds designed to produce a marijuana-like high have become more popular in recent years. Often marketed as "herbal incense" under brand names like "K2" and "Spice," synthetic marijuana can be purchased legally in many states.
The products are often more potent and dangerous than the illegal drugs that they mimic, county staff said.
Emergency room physicians report that individuals that use these products experience serious side effects, which include convulsions, seizures, anxiety attacks, combativeness, delirium, panic, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting and disorientation, according to the county staff report.
Products containing these synthetic drugs are particularly attractive to children and young adults due to packaging that resembles candy.
"Further, they are available in small packages at convenience stores at minimal costs, and the names given to these substances are intended to appeal to children and young adults," the staff report said.
v vAlso Tuesday:
Commissioners were brought up to speed on construction of Accuform Signs' new 305,000-square-foot corporate headquarters building, to be located on 40 acres in the corporate park section of the airport. Coastal Engineer & Associates President Cliff Manuel said construction bids on road and infrastructure improvements should go out to bid in November with construction expected to begin in 2014.
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said Accuform will create 43 new jobs during a two-year period and that this is "a big thing" for Hernando County.
Commissioners presented a resolution to Community Relations Coordinator Brenda Frazier, who retires Friday after 37 years with the county. The meeting was adjourned for 15 minutes while friends, family and co-workers met in the jury assembly room for cake and punch to celebrate Frazier's long tenure.
County commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a $164,000 contract to Peter Brown Construction to design an aviation business hangar at the airport. Commissioner Diane Rowden objected to the expenditure without doing a feasibility study.
Chairman Dave Russell called such a study a waste of taxpayer money because he is confident it would come back showing the need for such a hangar.