June 18, 2018
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Bangor councilors back citywide synthetic drug ban

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The city’s Government Operations Committee supported a citywide ban on synthetic drugs, including synthetic marijuana, bath salts and related substances, during a Monday night meeting.

City staff crafted an ordinance that would ban a list of more than 100 substances by street name — ranging from “Scooby Snax” to “Skunk” — as well as any “misbranded” drug. Synthetic cannabinoids, such as “spice,” and synthetic cathinones, such as bath salts, usually are labeled “not fit for human consumption” or as potpourri, incense or another innocuous identifier to avoid federal regulations.

The ordinance would outlaw the sale of mislabeled synthetic drugs. A violation of the ordinance would result in a $500 fine.

State and federal agencies have made numerous attempts to ban certain compounds used in the drugs, but producers are able to make minor adjustments to the drug’s chemical makeup to circumvent the restrictions.

When smoked or used inconsistent with labeling, side effects of synthetic marijuana include agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, tremors and seizures, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Last month, at the request of Bangor’s then-interim Police Chief Peter Arno, the owners of a downtown smoke shop and a Main Street pawn shop that sold synthetic marijuana agreed to take spice off their shelves. The owner of Headies Glass Gallery at 514 Broadway, who recently opened a new store at 64 Main St., has declined to stop selling the drugs, according to police.

Complaints about people hanging out and causing disturbances in Pickering Square have been persistent for more than a year, but business owners have said the number of people causing problems has tailed off dramatically now that spice no longer is available downtown, according to Councilor James Gallant.

Councilors at Monday’s meeting voiced heavy support for the ban — as long as it is enforced evenly — and said they might suspend rules during the next council meeting to allow a vote after first reading, rather than second reading.

A similar state bill is in the works, but Heitmann said it’s difficult to say when that might go through. He said the city’s ordinance could be adjusted later if the state passed its own restrictions.

In other business, the council received an update on Penobscot County’s grant-driven attempts to halt a cycle of recidivism and a revolving door at the Penobscot County Jail.

Last year, the county received a two-year, $250,000 grant to start a program to place repeat inmates with mental health diagnoses in housing, provide treatment and place them in jobs, with the goal of keeping them out of jail. Their crimes may include thefts, burglaries and drug violations, but people committed of violent crimes are not allowed into the program, according to Amy Richard of Maine Pretrial Services.

Richard said nine former inmates are enrolled in the program and that the grant will allow for up to 50 in the first year. The program is just a month old, but underwent a six-month planning process, she said.

The shuttering of Bangor’s drug court in 2012 heightens the need for alternative ways to rehabilitate eligible frequent fliers at the jail, which struggles with chronic overcrowding, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said during Monday’s meeting.

After finding housing for the former inmates, Pretrial Services will work with Eastern Maine Development Corp. to identify work, Richard said.

Councilor Pauline Civiello said she was concerned that the program would add to Bangor’s already significant population of convicts on probation.

“Are we overly saturated? At what point do we have enough?” Civiello asked, adding that she was worried about the quality of life in Bangor neighborhoods.

Ross said that people taken to Penobscot County Jail from communities outside Bangor often settle in Bangor housing or shelters afterward anyway because they have no way of getting home.

“To do nothing would just mean more of the same,” Ross said.

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