KINGSPORT — Kingsport’s new drug ordinance — which levies a $50 fine for the sale, possession, manufacture or transport of synthetic marijuana and bath salts — is scheduled to go into effect Sunday, and police are gearing up to monitor businesses known to carry the products.
Kingsport Police Department Deputy Chief David Quillin says there are eight to 10 Model City establishments, ranging from head shops to convenience stores, that have been selling synthetic drugs. He said next week police “will begin to monitor those locations” and write citations for violations, but he declined to specify if checks will be conducted by uniformed officers, vice agents or through other means.
“This ordinance is like all other ordinances. It’s there for a purpose, there for a reason,” said Quillin. “We hope that we will have compliance from all the vendors, the shops and stores selling the products. There’s been plenty of notice, plenty of media coverage (on the issue). It’s not an excuse to say they didn’t know that we now have this ordinance.”
Quillin said that if multiple packets or vials of the products are found in a business, police can write a separate citation for each and every violation. Therefore, the discovery of 50 individual packets of synthetic marijuana can be 50 separate $50 fines, or 100 vials of bath salts would be 100 citations.
And, according to the ordinance, offenders can be fined consecutive days or weeks if necessary.
“Technically, the way the ordinance is written, it is a separate violation for every pack, every day,” Quillin said.
The civil fine also extends to individuals found in possession of the products during the course of routine police business, such as unrelated traffic stops and arrests. Quillin reports the KPD and city leaders are still exploring whether the synthetic drugs can be confiscated from violators.
“We’re still talking about the best way to proceed,” Quillin said of seizing the designer drugs. “This is so new not just to Kingsport, but all the cities across the state trying to deal with the problem.”
For approximately the past year, area law enforcement and medical professionals have been battling the effects of synthetic drugs, with Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips first proposing an ordinance to ban the products in October. At a public forum held earlier this month by Kingsport police, hundreds of individuals turned out to hear prosecutors, a doctor and judge paint the products as a scourge on society.
Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Gene Perrin told the crowd, “there’s a special place in hell for people selling this stuff.”
Barry Staubus, Sullivan County district attorney general, said there’s a movement within Tennessee to adopt a statute similar to that in Virginia, which banned and criminalized all substances intended to mimic the effects of an illegal drug.
Authorities have compared the effects of bath salts to those of methamphetamine or cocaine, and synthetic marijuana to that of THC — save that the synthetic product allegedly raises heart rates, blood pressure and has caused strokes and seizures in some users.
“This is something that we certainly see as a problem,” Quillin said. “Law enforcement, city leaders, concerned parents, the majority of the community. We hope the people who have supported the sale and use of these products in the past see they are certainly in the minority.”