published Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Marion County towns eye synthetic drugs

By Ryan Lewis, Correspondent

JASPER, Tenn. -- City officials here have decided to take a different approach than neighboring Kimball, Tenn., in the fight against sales of synthetic drugs.

Earlier this month, the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to create a city ordinance that would outlaw the drugs' possession, sale and delivery.

A final vote on the ordinance will be Jan. 5, officials said, and a violator will face a $50 fine plus court costs in municipal court, which is the maximum penalty that state law allows.

Last week, Jasper Mayor Billy Simpson said he had received copies of ordinances from other cities across the state for consideration, but the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen has no plan to create a city ordinance that specifically addresses synthetic drugs.

Jasper Police Chief Tim Graham said the state law banning synthetic drugs, which went into effect in July, is enough to control the problem.

"Some cities have passed ordinances, and I felt it would be better to let the state Legislature handle it," Graham said. "I would compare it to putting up a new stop sign and then sitting there and writing tickets. You just don't do that."

A letter outlining the state law has been drafted by officials from the 12th Judicial District for all police departments to use, Graham said, and Jasper officers soon will be taking it to each of the businesses in the city.

"Let them read the [state] code on it," he said. "Let them know that it is a misdemeanor [to sell synthetic drugs]. We have to make [business owners] aware that doing it is a violation of the law. Then, we start enforcing it."

Business owners in Jasper will receive a copy of the letter and the state law and will have to sign a form saying they received the information, officials said.

Because the state law makes violations punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and 11 months and 29 days in jail through sessions court, Graham said citing an offender to municipal court might be overkill.

"We'd be spinning our wheels in the mud," he said. "Sessions court has a much bigger bite on the fines [than municipal courts]."

Officials said that once the notification process has been completed, it's possible that the district's drug task force will be called in to expose any violators in Jasper.

Kimball Attorney Billy Gouger said Kimball's ordinance gives the town "an additional level of control" over the problem because it gives police probable cause to look for "other things that may result in greater criminal charges."

"I think it's the responsibility of [our] board to do what we can to help eliminate these types of vices for anyone trying to consume this stuff," Kimball Mayor David Jackson said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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