Stores face reality of synthetic drug sales

Editorial – DNJ – December 29, 2011

Nearly 35 Rutherford County store owners ran into the harsh reality of synthetic drugs last week when they were required to appear in General Sessions Court to be arraigned on charges of possession of cannabinoid-containing products.

Most of them were ordered to complete six months of unsupervised probation and pay a fine. Their records can be expunged once they complete probation.

They’re fortunate the sentences were so light because this time next year they could be facing felony charges rather than a misdemeanor. State legislators such as Republican Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna want to make the manufacture, distribution and sale of these synthetic drugs a felony that would lead to harsher punishment.

The proposal holds merit because these types of drugs are becoming society’s newest scourge, and they shouldn’t be available on convenience store shelves where old and young alike can purchase them the same as if they were buying a soft drink.

Given catchy names such as Vampire Blood and Molly’s Plant Food and marketed as incenses and bath salts, these drugs cause the same effects as marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy, but they are dangerous and life-changing. In the first seven months of 2011, calls to poison control centers regarding use of bath salts (methcathinone products) increased to 4,137 cases from 303 the previous year.

With that in mind, it is difficult to feel much sympathy for the store owners who were prosecuted in General Sessions Court last week.

An attorney representing several business people said they are being “treated like common criminals and drugs dealers” even though they had done nothing wrong in the past.

One of the store owners said the company that sells her many other products represented the synthetic drugs as legal materials.

If that’s the case, then that company needs to be prosecuted, too. Similarly to sales of marijuana and crack cocaine, the street dealer is easier to target than the importer or middle man, so more law enforcement work is necessary.

But ignorance is not an excuse for store owners, even if they speak little English.

We hope “Operation Synful Smoke,” an October crackdown in which law enforcement confiscated more than 23,000 units of cannabinoids and bath salts along with $44,500 in cash, sent a message that these types of drugs cannot be sold on store shelves.

Business owners are responsible for knowing what comes into their stores and what goes over the counter. They will need to stay vigilant, too, because synthetic drug makers are constantly tweaking the chemical make-up of their products to pass them as “legal.”

The District Attorney’s office made the right move by requesting this roundup. Now it’s up to store owners to be aware of what they allow on their shelves to make it more difficult for impressionable young people to ingest these dangerous drugs.

Rutherford County commissioners recently passed a resolution urging the Legislature to make it a felony to manufacture, distribute or sell synthetic drugs. State lawmakers should proceed with caution to make sure their next move is constitutional, but they must take steps to protect the public’s safety.

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