Tulane bans synthetic marijuana to crack down on teen use

An ordinance banning the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana and similar products goes into effect in Tulare today.

The prohibition covers designer drugs known as “bath salts” and “spice” that are smoked, swallowed, inhaled or injected to get high.

Typical brand names of bath salts containing amphetamine-like stimulants includes Bliss, Vanilla Sky and Pixie Dust, while brand names of synthetic marijuana include K2, Potpourri, Serenity and Black Mamba.

The Tulare City Council voted unanimously last month to adopt an ordinance after complaints by downtown businesses about teens getting high on such products and loitering, Mayor David Macedo said.

It’s unclear how many cities in the state or the San Joaquin Valley have such bans, but Tulare is the first city in Tulare County to adopt an ordinance banning the substances, the city said.

The mayor said he spent an hour at a downtown business watching the action on the street, and saw young people ages 15 to 19 who were high from using synthetic substances. Their attitude and behavior “changed markedly,” he said.

Some were loud, others lackadaisical and some were slumped over, he said.

“This is a bad thing for them,” he said. “We don’t want easy access to it for them.”

Police conducted research and saw that youths are being targeted to buy synthetic drugs, which can cause hallucinations, agitation, aggression, psychosis and suicidal or homicidal thoughts, Sgt. Greg Merrill said.

There’s a state law against synthetic marijuana, but manufacturers adjust the formula to get around the law, he said.

Tulare’s ordinance is more specific than state law and includes a longer list of banned substances, City Attorney Martin Koczanowicz said. An ordinance make the ban easier to enforce, he said.

A first offense in an infraction and a $100 fine, but repeated incidents could escalate to a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

Downtown Smoke Shop owner Ali Altarb said he got rid of his spice for sale Tuesday after police paid a visit to tell him about the new ordinance. He said he wasn’t worried about losing customers.

“Four or five years ago when these first came out, I was busy,” he said. “But for the past four or five months, it has been slow.”

Most customers told him they smoked spice instead of marijuana because they had “good jobs” and wanted to pass a urine sample test, he said. Other said they were on probation for criminal offenses and subject to random testing.

Lately, customers have said they don’t like smoking spice anymore, he said: “They’re going back to marijuana.”