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Tampa City Council votes to explore restricting sale of synthetic herbal drugs

TAMPA — Antoinette Glover showed the City Council a photo Thursday of her 8-year-old grandson standing in a neighborhood store, staring at a wall full of brightly colored packets of synthetic herbal drugs, some decorated with drawings of cartoon characters.

"It's there like it's a bag of potato chips," she said.

Tired of seeing stores in Jackson Heights and Belmont Heights sell the synthetic compounds, which users say mimic the effects of marijuana, Glover, 52, asked the council to ban the products.

Council members voted unanimously to ask their attorneys to report back on March 1 on what the city could do to crack down on the synthetics. While acknowledging it could be difficult to ban a product with a formula that can be quickly changed to make it legal, council members said something needs to be done.

"If you go into just about any store in the black community, you will see these on all the walls," council member Frank Reddick said. "It's a serious problem."

With its vote, the council became the latest local government to grapple with a product that authorities worry is appealing, legal — and dangerous.

In January, 19-year-old Logan Kushner drowned while trying to swim in a Clearwater creek after smoking "Jazz," an herbal incense that's legal.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has said Kushner's death is "exactly why we must do everything in our power to ban all synthetic drugs."

She is sponsoring bills this year to expand laws passed last year banning some components of synthetic drugs.

That expansion is necessary, law enforcement officials say, because as soon as the state outlaws one compound used for fake pot, manufacturers come up with a new formulation.

Jazz comes in small neon packages that sell for about $6 for 3 grams. The only listed ingredient is Althaea officinalis, a perennial herb also known as common marshmallow, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Glover said she is circulating a petition to ban such products and has gotten nearly 500 signatures.

Count me in, said council chairman Charlie Miranda.

"This is nothing more than an attempt … of unscrupulous people trying to make money on innocent people," he said.

In two other pieces of other business, both related to the Republican National Convention, council members approved:

• Allocating $878,000 toward an expected $2 million hotel tab for out-of-town officers being hired to help police the event. City officials plan to bring in about 3,000 additional officers from outside the Tampa Bay area for the convention and will need 1,500 hotel rooms for them. Money for those rooms will come from $50 million in federal funds the city is getting to pay for convention security.

• Paying $99,500 to URS Corporation Southern to design new landscaping and accent lighting on Ashley Drive south of the Interstate 275 off-ramp to Tyler Street. And they gave the green light to $561,000 that will pay for the Ashley Drive improvements and similar work on other roads later.

Work on Ashley Drive is expected to begin in May and be finished by August, before the Aug. 27-30 convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Tampa City Council votes to explore restricting sale of synthetic herbal drugs 02/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 2, 2012 11:41pm]
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