Synthetic marijuana and the synthetic drugs commonly known as bath salts are officially illegal in Utica after the city passed a new ordinance Wednesday night. Our Andrew Sorensen takes a look at how Utica made this ban different to try to finally get synthetic drugs off the streets for good.
UTICA, N.Y.-- To this point, the producers and distributors of bath salts have been able to skirt every law passed by the state and federal governments aimed at banning specific synthetic drugs.
"So it's leaving all the different municipalities, towns, villages, and cities to create their own to have something in place. Because right now the only thing we have is we're shipping people up to the hospital for mental health evaluations," Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said.
But that's no longer the case for Utica.
"It was not time to wait around for something else to happen. I felt at this point I needed to act as quickly as I can -- with the work of the corporation counsel and law enforcement -- that would be enforceable and hold up in the courts," Mayor Robert Palmieri (D) said.
A new law passed by Utica's Common Council and immediately signed by Mayor Robert Palmieri Wednesday night addresses the loopholes in existing legislation. It aims to stop the tweaking of the drugs by banning seven different chemicals, as well as anything with a substantially similar chemical structure, or any substantially similar effects.
"If you ban one substance, then they just put in another substance," Utica Common Council member Jerome McKinsey said. "So we thought going after the substance could be futile."
The City of Rome passed a similar ordinance in April which they say dropped their incidences of bath salt use from two to three a day to zero.
While it proves the legislation can be effective, it does cause problems for other municipalities.
"Those entities that created their legislation, it's driving the customer base here, we're starting to become the focal point to getting bath salts," Chief Williams said.
Law enforcement hopes the ordinance helps to clean up the streets with a maximum $250 fine and 15 days in jail for each violation.
"They've had their warnings. And despite their warnings, they're still selling these substances to many people, especially youth," said Chief Williams.
The new law finally gives teeth to Utica Police to crack down on synthetic drugs, but city officials say they are still hoping for state and federal legislation to stiffen the penalties for offenders.
Utica's new law goes into effect immediately, but city officials still feel they will need to monitor the issue in case chemists come up with a new alternative drug.