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Washington County commissioners took a stand against synthetic drugs by passing a resolution during their February meeting, “making the use, possession, production, manufacture, distribution, transport, sale, offering for sale, trade, barter, exchange or purchase of certain substances unlawful and a public nuisance in the unincorporated areas of Washington County.”
“We’re placing Washington County on record as opposed to synthetic drugs,” said Commissioner Roger Nave, chair of the Public Safety Committee.
In order to take action, Washington County was required to formally accept municipal powers, which are limited to the unincorporated areas of the county.
According to County Attorney John Rambo, counties are allowed to exercise municipal powers in order to define, prohibit, abate, suppress, prevent and regulate all acts, practices, conduct, businesses, occupations, callings, trades, uses of property and all other things whatsoever detrimental, or liable to be detrimental, to the health, morals, comfort, safety, convenience or welfare of the inhabitants of the municipality.
Commissioner David Shanks made a motion to accept municipal powers, and Commissioner Mark Ferguson seconded. The motion passed with unanimous approval.
In writing the resolution, Rambo said he took the best components from all of the legislation that has been introduced to define public nuisance in Washington County.
With its municipal powers, Washington County declares a public nuisance unlawful actions regarding any capsule, pill, or other product containing certain synthetic derivatives of methcathinone, which is the key ingredient of “plant food, bath salts” and other harmful substances that endanger the health, safety, or welfare of its citizens. Once declared a public nuisance, the business is subject to a civil fine as a penalty of $50 and court costs for each violation. Each day of violation shall be deemed a separate violation.
In addition, the county is able to prescribe limits within which business occupations and practices liable to be nuisances or detrimental to the general welfare of the people may be lawfully established, conducted and maintained.
Rambo said a three-step process is required to permanently close a business deemed a public nuisance. After the material is gathered, the county can request an injunction to temporarily close the business. If a successful trial follows, the county would then request a permanent injunction.
“Once (the drugs are) made illegal, the prosecution will be shifted to (District Attorney) Tony Clark,” Rambo said. “Tennessee constitution limits the daily fine to $50, but there is a chance it could be applied to individual sales.”
A motion to approve the synthetic drugs resolution was made by Commissioner Mike Ford and seconded by Nave, followed by unanimous approval from the full board.
Commissioner Pete Speropulos stood and recommended the City of Johnson City adopt the same rules, but no response was received from city officials in the audience.