BARTOW – When Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd heard the news out of Congress, he felt elated.
“I suppose that our agency was a trailblazer in finding innovative ways in using current laws at the time to save children’s lives and protect them from the danger of those chemical compounds,” Judd said. “And that’s sad, that everyone was not as proactive as early as we were in this community, but once again, better late than never. And I’m excited to see this.”
In an interview with Freeline Media, Judd said he was excited to read that on Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to ban synthetic drugs and compounds that mimic marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines. These drugs would be added to the restrictive Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, and ban chemical compounds marketed as “bath salts” or “plant food” under brand names like as K2 and Spice. Used as substitutes for marijuana and other narcotics, they’re now sold legally in some states, and often marketed in convenience stores or head shops as an herbal incense.
Judd is well aware of this issue, and he said these products are not incense at all, but a “fake pot.”
“They called it an incense,” the sheriff said. “And they marketed it that way, that was their cover. But it was so putrid smelling, you certainly wouldn’t want that odor in your home.”
As Judd noted, no one burns the product for the aroma. Rather, buyers use it to get high, even though synthetic pot has been known to cause a variety of illnesses, including severe nausea, headaches and vomiting.
In October 2010, Judd held a press conference to announce he was cracking down on convenience stores throughout Polk County that market the product. The Polk County State Attorney’s office had agreed to press charges under a Florida statute prohibiting “imitation controlled substances.” It targets the sellers, distributors and manufacturers of products that “by express or implied representations, purport to act like” an illegal substance. The charge is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, although the law doesn’t ban mere possession.
“Our goal, if you will, was to sniff out those trying to make money by marketing this dangerous chemical to their customers, and we first asked them to stop, because a voluntary compliance is always preferable, and then we took action,” Judd said. “Now the product is off the shelf.”
In the past year, Judd noted, the Florida Legislature has taken action to ban it, the drug has become virtually impossible to find in Polk County stores, and now Congress is following Polk County’s example and taking similar aim at these products.
“It’s been going wonderful,” Judd said. “When we first started our eradication process, it was before even the state law passed in its current form. We were using another state law to make the arrests. We wanted the stores to act first, and all but a very few pulled the product from their shelves.”
Since then, he added, “We’ve had zero problems with the convenience stores in Polk County selling these items. They’re been very cooperative with us.
“The thing that gets me about this is we’re not trying to be hard or ugly, or create problems for people,” Judd added. “We’re only trying to keep people safe. We know when you have a dangerous chemical like this being marketed to children, we need to keep them safe. It’s our jobs as adults to look out for their best interests.”
Earlier this year, in response to reports from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida lawmakers voted to outlaw a long list of chemicals found in fake pot.
The Florida Poison Information Center has reported that between January and October, 149 overdoses and three deaths in Florida were linked to these bath salts, while another 374 overdoses, including two deaths, were linked to fake marijuana.
Judd said lawmakers are finally waking up to the dangers these drugs pose.
“Now we have the federal legislation, which I applaud,” he said. “It was a pretty huge vote in the House, by 317 to 98. Having said that, the 98 that voted against this legislation – which clearly will save lives and protect children – those 98 congressmen and congresswomen should be called on the carpet by their constituents. We know Congress does not act as quickly as local government can, and that’s a frustration for those of us in the country, that Congress is slow to act. But I am pleased they acted. It was prudent. It was responsible. So I am pretty excited about it, yes, because it will save the lives of children across this nation, and it will protect the health of child across this nation.”
It will also, he said, keep intoxicated drivers off the roads this busy holiday travel season.
“It’s a win-win-win all the way around for the community,” Judd said.
There are still challenges. Drug manufacturers have stayed a step ahead of law enforcement by changing the chemical compounds in drugs like Spice and K2, by just enough to get around the bans.
Judd said he also plans to make sure the drug does not work its way illegally into the Polk County Jail.
“We’ve had absolutely no information that such an item has been introduced to the county jail,” Judd said. “If we deem it contraband, then it’s a felony to introduce it to the jail. If that was to occur, the inmates involved would be charged with a felony, and anyone else (who brought it into the jail) would be charged with a felony. But we’ve had zero indication that anyone tried to get someone from our agency to introduce it in the jail.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.