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Hillsborough County to Begin Fining Sellers of Synthetic Drugs

Last week, Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance that will fine people selling synthetic drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana up to $500 for each package. They hope it will persuade store owners countywide to take the products off their shelves.

The state legislature has already made more than 100 versions illegal, and in December, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi used emergency powers to ban 22 additional substances.

The new state law took effect on July 1st. The new law makes it a third-degree felony to sell chemicals that have been used in synthetic pot. The drug is also commonly referred to as "incense" and "potpourri," and has gone under the brand names K2 and Spice. Under the new law, synthetic substances commonly known as bath salts are also outlawed.

Enforcement of the law is difficult for county enforcement. Manufacturers can tweak the formulas of the illegal designer drugs to come up with similar versions that are still technically legal. It is also difficult for law enforcement to verify whether the drugs are illegal because they do not have street-level testing kits. Synthetic drugs must be sent off for laboratory testing, delaying arrests and/or charges.

Under the new county ordinance, the county does not care about the particular drug inside the packages. If it looks like bath salts or synthetic marijuana, they can fine the seller.

"The problem with these synthetic drugs is they're marketed toward kids," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "So anything that gets them off the shelves and keeps them out of the hands of kids is a good thing."

Workers from Hillsborough County's Code Enforcement Department and the Consumer Protection Agency plan to inform workers at stores known to sell synthetic drugs via in-person visits and letters to inform them of the ordinance before authorities start to enforce it.

The Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency says the new ordinance will be enforced. County workers will go back to the problem stores to make sure the product is gone.

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