Police: Problems with synthetic drugs only a fraction compared to last year

Synthetic drug update

KINGSPORT, Tenn. - You've seen everything from the protests to the arrests -- we're talking about the dangerous problems caused by drugs like bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

But since new laws were passed in 2012 banning synthetic drugs, police have had a new weapon to combat the problem. News 5 wanted to know if we are better off one year later.

It's quiet outside of Ultimate Smoke in Kingsport; the doors are locked and the shop is closed for good. People living close by say they're relieved. "When I found out about all the drugs coming in and everything we really prayed that it would get out of here," said resident Anna Atkins.

But let's go back this time last year: people were protesting these drugs, smoke shops throughout the Tri-Cities were being raided by law enforcement, and it seemed dangerous problems with drugs like bath salts and synthetic marijuana were at an all-time high.

That made it tough for police to combat these problems. "From a legal standpoint obviously the laws didn't really allow us to make those charges," said Captain Jason Bellamy with the Kingsport Police Department.

Local lawmakers rallied in Nashville hoping to ban synthetic drugs. "There was a better way to describe [synthetic drugs,] albeit a completely new way in Tennessee law, so that we could get prosecutions," said State Representative Tony Shipley.

Captain Bellamy says by lawmakers passing three new bills looking at the chemical ingredients, the sale, and even the effects of synthetic drugs, problems are a fraction compared to last year. "When we encounter [synthetic drugs] obviously there are charges that can be placed against the individual and it's something that we rarely run into," added Captain Bellamy.

Police have even seen a dramatic drop in crimes like violence and theft caused by these drugs.

One year later, homeowners say they feel safer too. "I'll keep praying that we get them all out," added Atkins.

State Representative Shipley adds in this session there are plans to work on definitions and wording on legislation when it comes to synthetic drugs, as well as redefining scientific functions and chemicals.

Virginia also has legislation making it a felony to manufacture, sell, or even have synthetic drugs.

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