Kingsport Times News Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Business & Technology

Shop owners hit Kingsport with lawsuit over drug ban

December 20th, 2011 10:24 pm by Matthew Lane

KINGSPORT — It looks like Mayor Dennis Phillips got his wish, as two local smoke shop owners have filed a complaint against the city of Kingsport seeking to have its recent ban on synthetic drugs be declared unconstitutional.


Ultimate Smoke — located on East Center Street — and White Cloud Emporium — located on Bloomingdale Road — filed a complaint in Sullivan County Chancery Court on Monday naming the city of Kingsport as the defendant. Johnson City attorney Brandon Sizemore is representing the businesses’ respective owners, Jason Catoe and Todd Cartwright.


White Cloud Emporium is located in Sullivan County, but 70 percent of its customers are from Kingsport, which is why Cartwright said he signed on to the lawsuit.


“They’re taking our livelihood away and are doing it unconstitutionally without due process,” said Cartwright.


The complaint is challenging the constitutionality of Kingsport’s ban on synthetic drugs, saying the ordinance is vague and overly broad in its language. The complaint also seeks a permanent injunction against Kingsport from enforcing the ordinance. Kingsport’s ban went into effect on Sunday. Sullivan County and Bristol have approved similar bans.


The ordinances aim to ban the most popular types of synthetic drugs, such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts, with violators facing a $50 fine for the sale, possession, manufacture and transport of such products.


Synthetic marijuana — marketed as “K2” or “Spice” — is a chemical applied to herbal substances, incense or potpourri and smoked to mimic marijuana, but with a stronger hallucinogenic reaction. Some users have experienced strokes and seizures. Bath salts are sold in powder form under various brand names and produce an effect similar to methamphetamine.


White Cloud Emporium sells tobacco accessories, candy, incense, potpourri and herbal blends and is in the process of obtaining a license to sell tobacco. Cartwright and Catoe contend none of their products contain the synthetic chemicals banned under state law or listed as controlled substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.


Cartwright said he has never sold K-2 or Spice but did sell bath salts before the controversy over the products began, though not at White Cloud Emporium.


Though Sullivan County has approved a ban similar to Kingsport’s, Cartwright said he has not received any notice from the county of which products are illegal and the process to follow in getting rid of the products.


Cartwright said seven different smoke shop owners have pledged up to $10,000 each to wage the legal battle against the bans, vowing to take the fight all the way to the federal level if necessary.


“I’m about 98 percent confident we’ll win as long as we get a bipartisan judge who looks at the facts,” Cartwright said, noting a judge in Kentucky ruled against a similar banning ordinance recently.


According to published reports, a Christian County judge signed a preliminary injunction against an Oak Grove ordinance last week, hours after a synthetic drug ban took effect.


Last month, Phillips said it would be an honor to be sued over Kingsport’s ordinance banning the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana and bath salts within the city limits.


On Tuesday, Phillips said he was not surprised a lawsuit was filed.


“I’m not at all surprised, as profitable as their business is. It doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “I think they’ll try to prolong the sales as long as they can, and it’s unfortunate that we have attorneys who are so hard up they have to take cases like this.”


Phillips, who has vowed to drive the “head shops” selling the products out of business, said Kingsport would go to whatever end it takes to defend the ordinance.


“We started this to win. I really feel we’ll prevail, and I don’t think any judge is going to be sympathetic in giving a stay to something that has the devastating effect on young people,” Phillips said.


After the BMA approved the synthetic drug ban earlier this month, the city gave shop owners 10 days to remove the products from their shelves before the ban would take effect.


Deputy Police Chief Dale Phipps told city leaders this week the police department has begun covert operations of the shops and convenience stores that have sold synthetic drugs in the past. Of the 11 places identified, Phipps said the vast majority have pulled the products from their shelves and are refusing to sell to police agents.


“We still have some that are not in compliance, and we’re going to address that situation,” Phipps said, noting the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office is continuing to push for the Tennessee General Assembly to take up the issue in early spring.


“It looks like it’s progressing in the right manner. It’s a small victory so far.”


Tennessee attempted to ban synthetic drugs earlier this year, prohibiting certain ingredients used in their production. Manufacturers then simply tweaked the chemical makeup to skirt around legislation, keeping their products on store shelves.

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