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The Palm Coast City Council’s Disturbing Synthetic Marijuana High

| September 30, 2012

Maybe Cheech and Chong can play city council members in their next movie.

One wonders sometimes what our elected officials are smoking. Especially in light of the hysteria over synthetic marijuana and bath salts.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Local governments all over Florida are racing each other to ban those little packets of “incense” sold in convenience stores for $20 or $30 a pop under the name of Spice, Galaxy Gold, Mr. Nice Guy or K-2, among others. The banning is taking place often in legally suspect ways, as in Palm Coast—where the city council this week will prohibit stores from selling the packets or face a $300-a-day fine, imposed through code enforcement, even though the products are legal. Broward County did the same. The Volusia County Council of Governments is urging its component parts to follow. Palm Beach County may be next.

The bans are proliferating with little to no hard evidence that the stuff is anywhere near as dangerous or lethal as doomsayers make it sound. Compared to a day’s worth of alcohol poisoning, compared to the long-term effects of smoking, compared to the prevalence of last year’s hysteria of choice—the abuse of prescription pain-killers—and compared to what our schools are doing to our children with Ritalin and similarly damaging drugs, synthetic pot is an outlier. Yet the press is inhaling the hysterics and uncritically spitting out unfounded claims, because they’re made by “officials.”


A couple of examples: To make his case before the Palm Coast City Council, a local sheriff’s deputy flashed a claim during his PowerPoint that synthetic pot is “800 times stronger than marijuana,” and that side effects included “vomiting, agitation, fast heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, seizures, hallucinations, [and] psychotic episodes.” No sources were provided. And no qualifiers to the statements, which council members repeated, and local newspapers reprinted.

But those side effects are far milder and their list far shorter than those associated with any common anti-depressant (which are prescribed to children, train conductors and elected officials). As for the origin of the “800 times stronger” claim, I traced it down to a 1992 Journal of Medicinal Chemistry article that referred to one manufactured chemical compound, HU-210, which had been tested “in various animal species” only, and been found to have “effects 100 to 800 times more potent than THC,” the main compound in marijuana. The article did not cite effects of the compound on humans, because it’s never been tested that way, nor did it specify how much HU-210 had to be administered to have its disproportionate effects. No matter: the qualifiers have vanished, and the “800 times stronger” claim is now an Internet addiction to innumerable alarmist items on synthetic pot. HU-210,  by the way, is illegal by federal and Florida law.

In Palm Coast the council also did what politicians love to do when they want to scare people into submitting to new rules: it flipped out the kids card, claiming it was imposing the ban to protect adolescents. But they’re not the problem. Dawn Sollee, an assistant director at the Florida Poison Information Center, says the drugs appeal mostly to people in their mid-20s. Never let facts get in the way of a politically profitable fear.

And when WNZF’s David Ayres had the temerity to call Palm Coast’s actions an “overreach,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, acting as fellow-council member Bill McGuire’s messenger, slapped him down with an outraged (and heroically misinformed) letter that prompted what sounded awfully close to an on-air retraction. Ayers said “the city council is acting in the best interest and welfare of all of us in the Palm Coast community.”

Actually, it isn’t. When a local government makes an end-run around the law by pretending to uphold it, it’s acting in the worst interest of all of us. Palm Coast and its copycats are mixing hysterics with bad policy—a brew more toxic than whatever kind of pot they’re pretending to control. Local governments are doing this because it makes them look like they’re doing something at a time when budget cuts and hung over economies have forced them on the defensive, or abbreviated their sinecures.


If synthetic pot is illegal, then it’s a law enforcement matter. It’s not the place of city or county code enforcement officers to police what products are on storeowners’ shelves. President Obama did sign the Synthetic Drug Prevention Act in July, banning numerous chemicals used to make synthetic pot. Gov. Rick Scott did the same a few months earlier. So federal, state and local police have the authority to police the substances, and have done so in several Florida jurisdictions including Palm Beach and Putnam counties.

But police raids must prove guilt. It costs a lab $500 and many weeks to analyze and determine whether the compounds in seized products is illegal. Cities like Palm Coast and copy-cat corner-cutters don’t want to bother with the legalities. They’d rather flex their muscle and intimidate merchants instead, calculating, probably correctly, that shop-owners won’t challenge the tactic. As Netts put it blatantly: “I would just love for one of our local businesses to step up and say I demand the right to sell this stuff to your kids.”

It’s a catchy dare. It’s also a bully’s taunt, quite unbecoming of the closest thing Flagler County has to a statesman. Like his timid and uncritical colleagues, he’s being had. Local governments are trampling due process to enforce a legal shortcut. In the derelict war on drugs, it’s governments’ latest high. And it’s more disturbing than any pothead’s.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor and a columnist for Florida Voices, the statewide syndicate, for which a version of this piece was written. Reach him by email here or follow him on Twitter.

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9 Responses for “The Palm Coast City Council’s Disturbing Synthetic Marijuana High”

  1. glad fly says:

    this city commission should only hope the aclu doesn’t sue them and bankrupt the city. you can’t make something against the law that’s not against the law….but then again this commission has illegal secret meetings behind closed doors and violates florida’s sunshine law so anything goes.

  2. Yellowstone says:

    Here we go again . . . look back in time – let’s say to the era of prohibition. Imposing fines and imprisonment simply made a today’s common drug of choice more expensive.

    Tobacco is another drug with huge taxes attached. The same pack I used to buy in the 60s for 18 cents – costs over $4 today. Placing taxes (fines) – just makes things harder to get and more expensive.

    Since the 50s folks have smoked pot, dropped LSD, snorted all kinds of stuff from paint fumes. meth, heroine, to Drano. What’s to stop anyone from doing stupid stuff? Put higher taxes on them – or make them illegal and throw people in jail?

    That won’t work. Folks will simply find another trick.

    I always have cautioned kids, “Don’t do it! Why? ’cause it’s stupid to do so”. Try closing your eyes and spin around ten times. It’s cheaper and you get the same high.”

    Do they listen? Yes. Does it make any difference? No!

    If you want to kill yourself by doing stupid stuff – how can anyone stop you?

  3. Ron says:

    Sorry, Pierre… I usually agree with you but on this issue we part company. I fully support the ban on this crap.

  4. Palm Coast resident says:

    Seems our City Coucil has a need to delve into our private business, private drive time, private garage sales and privacy period.
    I’m not advocation drug use, but how in the hell do our city leaders find it necessary to make laws!
    The cops are complaining we don’t have enough room in our jails, the judges are freeing criminals all the time for the same reason. Now we’re gonna send our people to jail for something that is not outlawed….

    We need jobs, and more building and industry in our community. Why not work on that.The City council are not law makers, they are in Tallahassee.

    Listen to the people for a change…..We want less government in our lives, less taxes, better education, and more jobs……Please.

    The cops do a great job here in Flagler County enforcing the law. Not city ordinances. You ask any deputy that chases criminals, catches bank robbers, arrests thieves, pinches drug offenders and pulls accident victims out of cars if they want to nail someone on a city ordinance! They’ll laugh at you.

    Now the council wants code enforcement to police the local merchants for bath salts and wacky tabacky…..without a gun. Next thing you know, code enforcement will be riding around in cruisers and arresting people for having a garage sale.

    I repeat, Listen to the people for a change…..We want less government in our lives, less taxes, better education, and more jobs……Please.

  5. Robert says:

    I disagree with most of what Pierre writes, but agree with him on this. Next the city will make it illegal to purchase draino and other cleaning products. while I find it sad that kids ( people) are misusing this product the city has no right to ban a legal product.

  6. Maryjoe says:

    That is the biggest issue for me.. .that code enforcement is going to be involved. These people don’t have any ‘special’ training at all and some of them go way beyond what they should be doing. It’s really quite scary sometimes.

  7. Her Profoudessness says:

    PALM COAST commissioners should be recalled. What have they ever done that supports community mindedness? Flagler Beach. Commissioners should take over running Palm Coat and let us put an end to all the stupid things these Palm Coast commissioner, s think up for kicks and to feel oh so powerful.. Red light cameras, garage sale policing, idiot urban planning that costs people their lives in so many stupid accidents, intimidating. Business people. Are the majority of people in Palm Coast the walking dead? It definately appears so. Yuck!

  8. L.D. Ablo says:

    This reminds me of an incident back in the sixties when the younger generation started a rumor that they were getting high from smoking banana skins.The knee jerk reaction from the upright citizens brigade was priceless.
    There were calls to form committees to examine the health threats and social impact of this new scourge,and some went as far as calling it a communist plot,while others predicted anarchy would result from these drug crazed youth.
    In defense of the city commission,one must be thankful for they are providing a bit of comic relief in these troubled times.

  9. rob the dank man says:

    Alcohol murders people everyday and ciggerattes my dad has been a cold stone alcoholic his whole life. Hes 65 and somehow still alive. Hes a brilliant smart man whos life has been desyroyed because of alcohol. He even ran bootlegging operations with his dad. I love mary jane and she hasbe there for me thru thick and thin and shel never put me in a hospital becausey liver is failing. I watched my gf dad die i hospital at fifty two leaving behind three choldren an a wife because of cigerretes. If any thing on this planet its alcohol and cigs. Instead of trying to take small buisness owners money who sell a product to ADULTS over the age of 18 id worry about the millions that fie every day from products that profit the goverment in the billions of trillions every year.

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