The city of Columbia, South Carolina’s elected council gave unanimous first reading approval to a broad anti-drug paraphernalia ordinance earlier this month – but then sent the measure back to committee prior it receiving a second reading. The proposed ordinance mirrors federal and state statues prohibiting pipes, bongs, scales and other items used by drug users and dealers – but it also contained concerning language criminalizing test strips used to detect the presence of deadly drugs such as fentanyl.
The ordinance, which was reportedly drafted by the city’s police department, would allow city officers to write tickets carrying a penalty of up to thirty days in jail – or a fine of not more than $500 dollars – if they found paraphernalia and evidence indicating it was being used in connection with the consumption or distribution of controlled substances.
Sources say the police department brass asked city leadership to empower them to act after months of encountering homeless individuals openly using drugs. While the state statute is virtually identical to the proposed ordinance, this move would allow the city to circumvent the need to involve a state solicitor in the prosecution of these crimes.
In other words, city officials would have the authority to act without being reliant on the office of fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson to take action.
Here is the proposed ordinance …
(Click to view)
(The proposed ordinance – Via: City of Columbia S.C.)
While the vast majority of the proposed ordinance mirrors state and federal law, a paragraph criminalizing “testing equipment used, intended for use, or designed for use in analyzing the strength, effectiveness or purity of controlled substances” is unique. This language has raised concerns that lifesaving fentanyl detection strips would be criminalized – and that otherwise preventable overdoses might occur were the ordinance to be adopted.
I contacted city councilwoman Aditi Bussels – a public health researcher who seconded a motion to send the ordinance back to committee – and asked if she thought the fentanyl strip language constituted a public health risk. Bussels told me the inclusion of testing equipment language was one of the reasons the proposal was sent back to committee – and that she expects the public safety committee to remove the language prior to the ordinance’s second reading.
Columbia mayor Daniel Rickenmann has called for harsher regulation of vape devices on this news outlet, and while the Columbia police department controversially arrested a Columbia S.C. head shop manager for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, sources tell this news outlet that the proposed ordinance isn’t aimed at retailers who are complying with current state and federal law.
(Click to view)
(A deadly dose of Fentanyl – Via U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency)
The drug underworld moves faster than lawmakers. The swift emergence and extreme potency of synthetic opioids like fentanyl – and ascendancy of non-opioid sedatives such as Xylazine (which can’t be reversed with Narcan) – highlight the importance of government official’s attempts to reduce the numbers of Americans who become addicted to these extremely deadly drugs.
Still, caution must be exercised to avoid doing more harm than good while addressing this problem.
Drug law is struggling to keep up both with the extreme potency of modern narcotics, and America’s growing acceptance of the recreational and medicinal use of drugs like cannabis and psilocybin, which has resulted in a number of interesting legal battles in South Carolina and across the United States.
Columbia city council is expected to move the ordinance out of committee and give it a second reading at their next council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, August 15, 2023.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
(Via: Travis Bell)
Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.
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