Vickie Davis was at Georgia’s Smoke Shop in Port Richey on Wednesday when Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies came to visit the store with a warning.
Deputies are preparing to start enforcing a recently passed county ordinance that aims to fight synthetic drug use and penalizes shopkeepers that sell synthetic drug products. Davis, who says she’s the owner of the shop, was given a letter Wednesday telling her this and explaining the ordinance.
Lt. Chuck Balderstone, who leads the agency’s vice and narcotics unit, says Georgia’s is a shop that visibly displays synthetic marijuana for sale.
Sgt. William Davis told the shop owner and a shop full of journalists that she had completed sales to minors.
“Take that ordinance seriously,” he said.
Law enforcement officers went to convenience stores throughout the county with letters in hand Wednesday and told shopkeepers that deputies and municipal police departments are going to be enforcing the new county ordinance. Temporary amnesty was given Wednesday, but enforcement will begin in the coming days.
Synthetic drugs are a concern in Pasco County and among state officials.
Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a press conference that law enforcement officials want to send a very clear message.
“We’re not going to be afraid to enforce the law and protect the families of Pasco County,” he said.
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Pasco County commissioners passed the ordinance Nov. 7 that prohibits possession, sale provision or distribution of synthetic drugs. Two substances targeted by the ordinance are synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice, K2, and a plethora of other names; and bath salts, which are designed to mimic cocaine.
Under the new ordinance, it is illegal to provide or sell a product for human consumption when the product is labeled "not for human consumption."
The county ordinance also goes after drug paraphernalia, like bongs and pipes. The new county ordinance says must segregate drug paraphernalia to a separate room with a closed door or ban minors from entering the store without an adult if the items are displayed openly.
Owners will have to prohibit people younger than 18 from entering the store alone under the county ordinance.
Davis and other business owners also received a sign reading, “Drug paraphernalia located inside. No person under 18 years of age may enter unless accompanied by his/her parent or legal guardian.”
“I’m not going to jail for nothing or nobody,” she said as she attached the sign outside a window.
She said she has owned the store, located in a small shopping plaza on U.S. 19, for eight years. She said the ordinance is going to “hurt my revenue a lot.” She won’t miss the products banned under the ordinance, “but I’ll miss the revenue.”
The ordinance fines store owners $500 per item found in violation of the county ordinance.
“It’s definitely in their best interests to comply with us,” Balderstone said.
The fight to curb synthetic drug use can get complicated. When chemicals or products are made illegal, manufacturers have switched to using legal chemicals to make the drugs. Balderstone said some businesses have transitioned from selling synthetic drugs on shelves to hiding them behind the counter.
Florida officials have passed laws making some synthetic drugs illegal. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday filed an emergency rule outlawing 22 new synthetic drugs.
The letter sent to shop owners reads the newly banned chemicals “are contained in virtually all of the products that the PSO has observed being sold in businesses throughout Pasco County and being marketed as ‘Legal in Florida.”
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