For the next several weeks, convenience stores in Pinellas County can continue to sell the stimulant drugs known as "bath salts" and synthetic marijuana products while county officials revise a proposed ban.
County commissioners decided Tuesday to postpone a public hearing on the ban, which would have required all stores to take the products off shelves. Officials are now considering the possibility of outlawing some synthetic drugs completely, while barring the sale of others to anyone under 18.
Pinellas County has about 500 convenience stores, some of which carry synthetic marijuana — herbal incense sprayed with chemicals — alongside candy and batteries. Commissioners aimed most of their criticism at these stores.
But the county also has a handful of tobacco shops that only sell to those 18 and older, and their owners have argued that banning adults from buying herbal mood enhancers would be akin to banning energy drinks.
A majority of the commissioners voiced support for a ban of some kind, but several also said the language needed to be clarified.
As is, the proposed ordinance does not explain when new bans would take effect if more products are black-listed. It is also vague on how members of the committee tasked with reviewing new drugs would be appointed and whether they would decide which substances to ban or would simply advise commissioners.
"I'm very supportive of this moving forward," said Commissioner Ken Welch, adding that he favored banning the synthetic drugs and herbal products like kratom over restricting them.
In July, a state law went into effect that banned about 90 chemicals that appear in synthetic marijuana. But by the time the law was in place, manufacturers already had adapted and put out new products.
"We can be much more flexible and reactive than the legislature can as these formulas change," Welch said.