Late last week, Pinal County Attorney James Walsh and police chiefs from throughout Pinal County held a press conference in Apache Junction to detail the initiative they are undertaking to stop the sale of these synthetically-concocted “novelty powders,” whose makers stay one step ahead of the laws passed to ban their products by altering the chemical composition.
Walsh emphasized that in some cases the effects of these legally-produced drugs is “more extreme” and dangerous than the illegal drugs they mimic. He also said that damaging after-effects of the substances can be permanent for the users.
Users can become psychotic, paranoid, hallucinatory and combative after injesting the drugs and there are numerous examples of those under the influence of these chemicals doing serious physical harm to themselves and others, he explained.
Legislation has been passed in Arizona and elsewhere to curtail their manufacture and sale of these substances, but, by the time the laws are formulated and take effect, the “recipe” for the drug has been changed or a new one has been created to take the place of the illegal one. Nationwide, law enforcement is frustrated and finding out that this legislative approach is clearly not workable and effective.
A new approach was needed and Walsh said that Pinal County “will be taking a page out of Yavapai County’s book” and using the so-far successful system authorities set up there “to eliminate the availability of synthetic drugs and protect residents.”
During the Oct. 18 press conference, Walsh described the new approach that will be taken by law enforcement and his office.
Initially, he said, merchants will be approached with information furnished by his office to local law enforcement officers including a legal notice from the Pinal County Attorney’s Office warning that the continued sale of these substances may result in “prosecution or civil litigation.”
An accompanying document from the office gives the retailers the opportunity “to be good citizens” and sign an agreement stating they acknowledge that the products “contain dangerous chemicals” and “they are being purchased for human consumption.” The signer/owner then agrees to “immediately cease” selling the products and voluntarily taking it off their shelves.
Walsh cited successful results in Apache Junction already. He announced that six out of the seven known locations where the drugs were being sold in this area have signed the agreement documents and already voluntarily stopped sales, with the seventh currently seeming receptive to signing up.
According to Walsh, if the retailers choose not to voluntarily give up the practice, they will be served a notice that “they are from Synthetics, A-1 selling something harmful to the public.” If still non-compliant, Walsh said they will be flatly told to “meet us in court.”
In a civil venue, a verified complaint for temporary and permanent injunctive relief will be filed in the Pinal County Superior Court. This complaint will be supported by affidavits from medical professionals, mental health providers, schools, law enforcement and public safety personnel, and users, parents and neighboring citizens affected by the public nuisance, according to Walsh.
Walsh said his office can, and will, go to the Superior Court judge and convince the judge that the sales of these items constitutes “a public nuisance” and get an injunction against the business selling the substances. If disobedient or non-compliant, businesses would be subject to injunctions, fines or possibly contempt-of-court jail time.
Walsh stated that they are confident that this approach will be effective because “it worked in Yavapai County”and he cited that the judge there saw it (sale and ingestion by humans) as a serious physical threat to the public.
This argument, he said, is easy to prove to a judge’s satisfaction because of increasingly numerous local and national examples and case histories that can be cited.
Walsh encouraged anyone who has anecdotes or information on the drugs or episodes involving users, or sellers, to come forward and report them to the Pinal County Attorney’s Office or local law enforcement agencies.
For more information, contact Kostas Kalaitzidis at (520)866-6699 in the Pinal County Attorney’s Office.
By Betty Swanson