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County leaders want tougher local rule on synthetic drugs

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- Kern County supervisors have started the process for a tougher, local rule against synthetic drugs, such as "spice" and "bath salts."

The board on Tuesday heard the proposal from county lawyers, which includes tools to go after businesses selling the drugs. It would hit them where it hurts -- the ability to stay open at all. The ordinance takes aim at any drugs that skirt existing state and federal laws.

"One of our goals is to try and give parents as many tools as possible to stop their children from walking into a store and legally get something that has devastating consequences for them," Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard told Eyewitness News.

Spice is often the name for synthetic marijuana, and synthetic methamphetamine is often called "bath salts." In recent weeks, a number of families in the Oildale area have told Eyewitness News they're convinced spice is still being sold in at least several stores.

Maggard says the proposed county rule would ban the sale, advertising, packaging and presentation of the synthetic drugs -- or even any fake versions of them.

The plan would make that a misdemeanor, but county leaders want to use more tools to stop the sales.

Maggard says various local permits could also be yanked, if a store is found with the synthetic drugs.

"The health department issues permits that allow stores to sell tobacco, to sell hot and cold food items, and to sell beverages," Maggard explained. "If they don't comply with our ordinance, we have the ability to rescind these authorizations."

Sale of these drugs has been banned under federal and state law, but drug-makers have tried to get around that by changing the chemicals in the substances.

"Our office has reviewed the Federal, State and local laws which address these synthetic drugs, and has drafted an Ordinance which declares certain activities involving synthetic drugs to be a public nuisance and subject to all available civil remedies," reads the county lawyers' letter to the board. "The Ordinance also imposes appropriate criminal penalties for certain activities involving synthetic drugs that are not already regulated by State and Federal law."

Violations of the county rule could be considered a misdemeanor, with a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. The proposal says a violation could also be considered an infraction, which would result in a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second offense within a year, and $500 for each additional offense within a year.

The county ordinance would also make it illegal to possess or use any synthetic drug "not already regulated by State or Federal Law."

"Today it is legal for a young person to walk into a store and buy a substance that can cause them to act out tremendously, become suicidal, and is potentially terribly addictive to them," Maggard said. "So we must stop that opportunity."

The City of Bakersfield also recently enacted a tougher rule on "spice" and "bath salts." Their "unregulated chemical" ordinance was approved by the city council on July 22, and City Attorney Ginny Gennaro says it becomes effective Aug. 21.

Tuesday's action by the Kern County supervisors sets a public hearing on the proposed ordinance for Sept. 1, and Supervisor Maggard says the ordinance could become law on Oct. 1.

"The real teeth in this, I think, is the monetary," he said. "A much deeper ability to reach in and try to get that business owner to be responsible for what they're selling or not selling as illicit drugs."
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