Sparks aims to put out Drug Smoking Paraphernalia

MURFREESBORO – DNJ – 12/26/2012 State Rep. Mike Sparks is making it a personal mission to visit beer boards in an attempt to halt sales of drug-related paraphernalia at local markets.

Sparks, R-Smyrna, a leader in combating synthetic drugs across Tennessee, met with the Rutherford County Beer Board a couple of weeks ago to bring attention to an issue he believes is costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year.

“I told them that we should be going to these market owners and saying, ‘If you are selling crack pipes, then we are going to pull your license,’” Sparks said. “Then we don’t even have to make any arrest, which saves us money in the prison and court systems.”

County Beer Board Chairman Keith Bratcher supports what Sparks is doing to stop the sale of synthetic drugs. The board last July responded by suspending the beer permits of three convenience store owners convicted of selling synthetic drugs for 30 days and suspended another convicted store owner’s beer permit for 180 days.

Bratcher is glad a new law sponsored by Sparks gave beer boards the power to pull beer permits. The beer board and the state representative also discussed ways to tweak the law to provide more ways to enforce laws that ban the sale of synthetic drugs.

“One thing we’d like to look at mainly was to see if there is a way of having compliance checks on this,” said Bratcher, adding it might be good if his beer board could respond to complaints by asking the sheriff’s office to examine whether a store is selling synthetic drugs. “We’re not clear on what the beer board could or couldn’t do.”

Sparks said he has been researching the issue and believes existing laws on drug paraphernalia could allow beer boards to act.

The Smyrna legislator said the issue has become dear to his heart the past several years, especially after all of Tennessee’s problems with synthetic drugs.

Sparks successfully sponsored legislation last session to suspend beer and tobacco licenses of markets that are caught selling synthetic drugs, such as bath salts and plant foods that mimic the effects of illegal drugs if ingested or inhaled.

The Smyrna Beer Board also enforced that law after a market owner was charged with possession of synthetic drugs for sale.

At the same time, Sparks said he believes treating drug users like criminals instead of trying to do something to help them break addiction is costing Tennessee’s taxpayers.

His effort to get beer boards to stop selling glass pipes and other smoking devices, he said, would help with some of the cost issues.

“Everybody knows why these markets are selling these things,” Sparks said.

Heading into his second term, he knows additional measures will have to be taken to truly address the drug issues facing residents of Tennessee.

He said other Republicans ignore the issue or look at it from a one-dimensional point of view.

“They say the person did the crime, so they need to do the time,” Sparks said. “But that’s being ignorant of the true problem. If you are going to lock someone up and expect them to get off drugs and stay off drugs, that just doesn’t make sense.”

It also doesn’t make fiscal sense, Sparks noted.

“What people have to understand is that if we could truly turn 100 men’s or women’s lives around and keep them out of jail, that’s $2.3 million we’ve saved,” Sparks said. “Those are monies we could use for teacher raises, road improvements, to build schools or parks, rather than house people in a jail or prison.”

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