Citing an increase in the use of synthetic marijuana and partially motivated by recent instances of deaths related to its use in Montgomery County, Manvel’s city council approved the first of two readings to authorize an amendment to the city’s Code of Ordinances that would grant local law enforcement greater latitude in efforts to enforce the prohibition of illicit synthetic substances.
Police Chief Keith Traylor told council that his department has seen an increase in synthetic narcotics and marijuana over the past few years, particularly among the high school population. He described it as a “very serious matter that we need to look at and try our best to do what we can to prevent it from getting into the hands of our young adults.” The chief went on to say that the state legislature is moving slowly on addressing the problem and that law enforcement is falling behind on efforts to curtail the distribution of the drugs.
Buttressing his case, the coordinator from the Brazoria County Coalition of the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol (BACODA), Danielle Meyer, said that police departments throughout the county are receiving phone calls every day on synthetic marijuana. She mentioned Lake Jackson last year having 65 suicides that were all linked to synthetic marijuana. She is “scared to death as a parent” of two high school students and related a recent incident of an Alvin High School student experiencing seizures after just one try of the substance. “One try of this drug and you can die,” she said.
Meyer told council that she has been involved in drug prevention efforts for 24 years and said these synthetic substances “scare me more than any other.” Complaining that law enforcement officers “hands are tied.” Many of the substances used in the compounds are not illegal. She says the “drug dealers are smarter than us and they change the chemical compound so that they become legal.” She described the current ordinance that council was considering as little more than a band-aid but is “something we can do for now until the legislature acts. We can at least get it out locally from the mom and pop stores; we can at least find them and make it hard for them to sell. It will put some pressure on the drug dealers that are killing our children.”
Meyer said the substances are marketed primarily to kids aged 12 to 18 and that the packaging is usually “cartoonish” in its design. She says they are breaking the law by not disclosing the contents of the package and that is “one of the ways we can get them.” Another challenge law enforcement has to deal with is that dealers are now keeping the substances behind their counters and respond to particular hand gestures by customers wanting the product. She encourages the public to report any instances of this type of activity that is noticed. She said its distribution is now moving to the streets and reported that the majority of car drivers being pulled over for suspicion of DUI are not drunk but are stoned on synthetics.
Chief Traylor acknowledges that no local stores are known to sell the drugs and he has not received any reports of it yet, but he feels confident that it will come. He visits stores regularly to “buy a drink or something like that and I peruse the countertops and just nonchalantly look around just to see what I might.” Mayor Martin said she has been told of local availability and the chief agreed that it is readily available everywhere. The mayor said the local EMS is worried too as many of their late night calls are now dealing with these substances.
Without the ordinance Chief Traylor said the holder of the substance could not be arrested until after the product was tested to verify its illegality. That process can take 30 to 45-days according to the chief. Then a warrant for their arrest must be issued and they must be found before they can actually be arrested. Many times the culprit will be long gone by that time. The ordinance will allow police to charge them with it “right then and there,” the chief said. This is a band-aid that will help us on the enforcement side and the awareness side until the legislature steps in and puts some hard fast laws out that will help us to enforce it.”
The popular vapor cigarettes are one way the synthetic drugs are being ingested. Meyer said the many stores you see selling vapor cigarette products are making money on more than just the e-cigarette device. “There are not 14 stores in our area because they are making money off e-cigarettes; they are selling other things for the vapor cigarettes. That is what we need to tackle next,” she said. As Chief Traylor succinctly stated, “individuals are going to find newer and better ways to find that ever loving high that they look for.”