Bhavika Sheth and her husband have owned Frankfort's Eastwood Shell for more than two years, and they say they oppose selling synthetic drugs – commonly known as bath salts and synthetic marijuana. She said the money to be made off the drugs is not worth the potential cost. “I know some places have made a killing off that stuff, but I know if I brought my kids into a store selling that, I wouldn’t feel safe, so we won’t have it here,” she said. Eastwood Shell on Versailles Road was one of about 25 businesses that Frankfort and state police visited Tuesday with educational letters about synthetic drugs.
They also explained why they’re considered illegal and the simulated substance statute County Attorney Rick Sparks plans to use to prosecute those who sell or distribute them.
Police cited five employees Friday at five Frankfort businesses for trafficking in a simulated substance, which have been banned since 1992. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. They will be arraigned in District Court Jan. 31.
Officers executed search warrants for the simulated or synthetic drugs – bath salts and synthetic marijuana – after an investigation included controlled buys at the gas stations, Maj. Fred Deaton said Tuesday before the letters were delivered.
Many items were confiscated as a result of searches conducted along with the citations.
“The execution of those warrants and those charges were part of a two-pronged operation that involved enforcement and public education to try to eliminate and eradicate the public safety and public health problem of these substances,” Deaton said.
Sparks sent a letter to the businesses where employees were cited Friday, and Tuesday officers delivered the second set of letters that ask the non-offending businesses to help eliminate the synthetic drugs from Franklin County.
“The best way to stop the sale of these substances is to eliminate the market,” the letter says. “These substances are not real marijuana, and you can’t take a bath with these salts.”
The statute with which Sparks plans to prosecute sellers and possessors bans the manufacture, sale or possession of substances that seem like actual controlled substances.
“Anything that reports to be or appears to be the illegal substance is in fact a crime,” Deaton said.
“The synthetic marijuana has a very similar appearance to marijuana, and the bath salts powder has a similar appearance to cocaine.”
A law was passed in March 2011 banning specific chemical compounds found in forms of bath salts from Kentucky. However, chemists have found different compounds without using the banned chemicals to dodge the ban and still sell what was thought to be a legal product.
The amended law specifically prohibited piperzines, commonly used to spray on plant material to create synthetic marijuana, and Mephadrone, which has been referred to as bath salts or energy powder, according to Sparks’ letter.
“However fast we could get a law on the books to address this problem, the law failed to anticipate the speed with which manufacturers could change the chemical formulae,” the letter said.
But Sparks and local law enforcement said they have found a “broader” statute that makes the synthetic drugs illegal.
“After it became obvious we were having some sort of problem in Franklin County we consulted Mr. Sparks, and he really did his homework on it and researched it and seems to think this was, in fact, the statute to prosecute under, and the charges have followed,” Deaton said.
The businesses included in the charges last week were: Speedy Mart on East Main Street, Speedy Mart and Valero, both on Holmes Street, Discount Tobacco on East Main Street, and Silver Lake Food Mart on Sea Hero Road.
Sparks noted in the letter that the U.S. “has seen an overall increase in importation, manufacture and use of these synthetic substances, due in large part to the continued criminalization of cannabis, the crackdown on street-level pharmaceutical trafficking and the fact that most drug testing did not, at the time, test for these new chemicals.”
People turned to the synthetic drugs as an alternative to the controlled substances.
Many counties, including Anderson County, have looked at ways to add a county-level ban on the different kinds of synthetic drugs. However, Sparks has contended that it would be difficult to ban outright because of the many different forms of the drugs.
The different chemicals in the drugs makes it difficult to determine what is actually in them. That could explain the variety of side effects including increased heart rate, hallucinations, brain damage and kidney damage.
“We hope the public realizes how dangerous these things are from a public health and public safety standpoint,” Deaton said.
He said individuals who have ingested different forms of synthetic drugs have also been known to become violent with officers.
“Although I’m not a chemist or a doctor, it tends to not only be the health hazard but also the concern of law enforcement,” Deaton said.
Officers also searched businesses for additional offenders during the educational push Tuesday, but no other citations were issued.
Deaton said the investigation with the businesses is ongoing, and additional citations could be issued.
“We plan to apply the current law and see how it shakes down,” Sparks said Tuesday night.