At least five area retailers will now be forced to remove products from their shelves that produce effects similar to marijuana.
During Tuesday’s Gainesville City Council meeting, members voted to suspend a charter that requires them to hear three readings of a proposed ordinance in favor of quickly passing legislation that will prohibit the sale or possession of a synthetic substance commonly referred to as K-2.
Gainesville Police Chief Steve Fleming said the substance is marketed as incense, but is often used in place of marijuana.
Along with K-2, the ordinance will also prohibit salvia divinorum, a plant that causes hallucinations similar to those experienced while using LSD or PCP.
“It’s a dangerous product causing sickness in our youth,” Fleming said.
Information provided by Fleming states that both substances have an intoxicating effect on users and can produce effects three to 100 times greater than those of marijuana. Users can experience heightened blood pressure, hallucinations and panic attacks, and Fleming said both substances have been linked to suicides and emergency room visits.
Currently, Fleming said, there are at least five retailers who sell K-2, and one that sells salvia.
Because the substances are not regulated, and are legal as of now, they are easily accessible, even to those younger than 18.
“Literally, a child with $30 can walk into a store and purchase this,” Fleming said.
After the city publishes the ordinance, retailers have 10 days to get rid of the products or they’ll face up to $500 in fines. Residents in possession will also be subject to the fines.
Additionally, the ordinance is a clause that also makes it illegal to have equipment used to smoke the substances.
The new legislation comes after nearby cities have taken similar steps, some of which have set fines for violating the ordinance to as much as $2,000, Fleming said.
So far, four states have outlawed the substances, “And hopefully Texas will be the other one,” Fleming said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, council members also voted to keep the city’s current tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year. Residents will continue to pay 64.7 cents per $100 valuation.
Keeping the current tax rate means the city will bring in $142,000 less, however. City Manager Barry Sullivan noted that although this means the city will be operating on a tight budget, it will also be a balanced budget.
Sullivan noted that a large loss in revenue resulted from a business relocating outside of city limits.
Mayor Glenn Loch said the tax rate has remained the same for the last two or three years and spoke in favor of keeping it that way.
“This is what we’ve had for a number of years and I see no reason to increase this,” he said.
Since there was no change in the tax rate, no public hearing was necessary.
The Council also moved to adopt a Section 125 Premium Only plan for city employees.
The plan, which gets its name from section 125 of the IRS code, allows for employees to have certain insurance premiums and health savings account contributions deducted from their paychecks on a pre-tax basis.
Sullivan said the plan can save employees more than $19,000.
“It’s a win-win for the employees and the city,” Sullivan said, explaining that both parties will benefit.
Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Goldsworthy was not present for Tuesday’s meeting.
In other business:
• Charles Draper was appointed as ex-officio to the Gainesville Economic Development Corporation Board.
• Council members voted to approve the 2010-11 Gainesville Economic Development Corporation Board budget.