Health Dept. bans synthetic marijuana, bath salts with new regulation

By Angie Hilsman | Aug 25, 2017
Courtesy of: Chris Michaud/ Health Dept.

The town's Health Department has banned powders, herbs, and pills that target kids and are sold as potpourri, but it's gotten creative to keep the products out of stores.

Such bath salts and synthetic marijuanas are usually prohibited by banning the chemical compounds that they're comprised of, but attacking the substances that way leaves legislation trailing the industry, officials said.

"All they do is change one chemical bond, and it still may have the same effect on the user or similar effect on the user, but they bypass the regulated ingredients," said Health Director Chris Michaud.

The new Prohibited Products Regulation bans such "bath salts, synthetic marijuana, potpourri, cleaner, incense, spice, air freshener, or aromas" both by description and specifically by name to keep the items from reappearing in gas stations and smoke shops, said Michaud. The legislation was passed by the Board of Health on August 16.

By banning the products by name instead of by chemical makeup, the Health Department has created an adaptive law that is defensible in court, and avoids having to do time-consuming lab tests, Michaud explained.

"In the time that we've been working on it, 50 new products have come out. It's impossible that we'll keep them from staying ahead, but we can create regulations that frustrate their abilities to stay ahead," said Michaud. The regulation will be updated regularly with new product names as they are developed and released onto the market, he said.

Product labels often reflect popular brands like the iPhone or Scooby-Doo, incorporate brightly colored imagery, and have unclear branding like "Klimax Potpourri" and "Buzzed Bunny," said Michaud. But, such compounds bypass food and drug regulations because they're sold as potpourri, he said.

"They're broadly marketed under the potpourri/incense/spice umbrella, but who wants their house to smell like 'Dead Man Walking' for $23?" asked Michaud. "It's clear to me when I look at it that they're targeting our youth."

But, websites that sell such products often have an age limit (21+), he continued. And because it's sold as potpourri, the sites often evade safety filters.

Additionally, labels usually include disclaimers, relieving manufacturers and wholesalers of responsibility for product misuse, said Michaud.

"...but it's called 'Freakin' Stoned,'" he said.

The regulation also prohibits products "intended or designed to be, or likely capable of being, burned as incense, sniffed, snorted, smelled, inhaled (where directly or after burning), ingested or otherwise consumed."

Michaud hopes the regulation will deter shopkeepers from stocking such products. New Bedford and Fall River have recently passed legislation to ban similar items as well, Michaud said.

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