Last year, bath salts meant nothing more than what you wanted to soak in after a long council meeting. Fast forward six months, bath salts and other “designer drugs” began appearing on many council agendas.
So-called bath salts are powder or crystalline substances intended to be snorted, smoked or injected to make their users high. Sold under such names as “Vanilla Sky,” “Purple Wave” or “Bliss,” they often result in hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rates, severe anxiety, and violent and psychotic behavior similar to the effects of PCP and other synthetic stimulants. Use of these substances has been linked to the injury or death of the user and/or individuals who encounter users.
In response to the growing use of “bath salts” and the lack of federal or state law in South Carolina restricting the manufacture and use of these substances, a number of municipal and county officials took action in the summer and early fall to ban the manufacture, sale and use of these substances.
In September, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used its emergency authority to ban chemicals used in legal synthetic drugs known as “bath salts,” calling the chemicals an “imminent hazard” to the public.
In a move to “prevent an imminent threat to public safety,” the DEA issued a Final Order, classifying the chemicals as Schedule I substances, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act.
The order is in effect for the next 12 months, with the option to extend the ban for another six. During this time, the DEA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will further study the chemicals to determine if they should be permanently controlled.
“Because enforcement authority related to this ban was limited to federal law enforcement agents,” explained Eric Budds, Municipal Association deputy executive director, “it was unlikely to be very effective at the local level.”
In October, however, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control mirrored the federal action. This reclassification on the state level allows state and local law enforcement officers to handle enforcement. According to state law, anyone convicted of the possession, manufacture or distribution of Schedule I controlled substances is guilty of a felony and on first offense is subject to not more than five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000, with more severe penalties for subsequent offenses.
DHEC’s action means local ordinances addressing bath salts and synthetic marijuana are no longer necessary, determined Danny Crowe, former general counsel for the Association and current municipal attorney for Cayce, Saluda and Cottageville. Based on statements, “DHEC considers its criminalization of the substances as enforceable by local law enforcement.”