By Rob Glidden
A new “objectionable materials” ordinance will give the Southington police more tools to deal with dangerous objects in town, including the growing problem of “synthetic marijuana.”
“It’s usually an herb sprayed with a chemical designed to give it the same effect as marijuana,” said Sergeant Jeff Dobratz, spokesman for the Police Department.
Since they are not technically marijuana, none of these synthetic substitutes are illegal under federal or state law. It’s even possible to get them at gas stations or 24-hour markets, where they are kept behind the counter until requested by customers.
“There’s been growing awareness of this for a while, but we hadn’t heard much here,” said Youth Services Director Sue Saucier. “Now we’re hearing that a number of older teens are involved with this, buying it for themselves and for others. It’s sometimes marketed as incense, but people know what they’re buying.”
The Youth Services department, along with other local organizations that work against drug use in the community, are deeply concerned about this new trend. For whatever other negative effects it may have, marijuana is an organic product and its effects have been studied in detail. These substitutes are still mysterious to the public at large.
“With these chemicals, you never really know how your body will react,” Saucier said. “You don’t know if there’s something in there that can do real damage.”
When the Town Council discussed the ordinance as a whole, Town Attorney Mark Sciota emphasized the synthetic marijuana when referencing the overall list of materials.
“It’s become a very, very dangerous thing in Southington and in Connecticut,” he said.
The officials emphasized that simply adding one type of synthetic marijuana to the objectionable materials list would do little to solve the problem. Those who produce it could simply change one of the ingredients and it would no longer fall under the restrictions. With this is mind, the list is designed to be fluid, allowing the police to add new items without having to go through the entire process of council approval.
“We want to go this route with this objectionable products because they change so often that we can’t possibly change the ordinance to keep up,” said Town Councilor Chris Palmieri. “We identified what we are trying to prevent so it’s more vague and more encompassing on all the types of products. I think it will be beneficial for us to move forward and work with the police department.”
Police hope that the new authority granted by the ordinance will help them make some progress towards keeping the synthetic marijuana off the streets.
“Nobody is going to be taken into custody or anything like that, but the ordinance would allow us to give out infractions and confiscate the material as evidence,” Dobratz said.