By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND -- The city commission said "no," but not to the drugs. In a 3-2 vote, it just said no to a proposed ordinance aimed at curtailing the sale of so-called synthetic drugs at its Dec. 3 meeting.
Mary Swiderski, executive director of the Volusia Council of Governments, said she was disappointed her hometown failed to follow other cities in making the sale of synthetic drugs a code violation. The former DeLand commissioner spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance at the meeting.
"To me, this is about life," she said in an interview after the meeting.
Ms. Swiderski has been a leading proponent for the synthetic-drug ordinances that eight of Volusia's 16 cities are in the process of adopting or have adopted. Her two adult children have habitually used the artificial cannabis, often known as K2, and so-called bath salts, designer psychoactive substances. Ms. Swiderski said both have abstained from all drugs for years now.
"I have watched the synthetic drugs -- I've seen what it does first hand," she said. "That's why I know there's an issue."
Sympathetic as commissioner Vonzelle Johnson is to the families affected by synthetic drugs, he voted against the proposed ordinance. He said current code enforcement is hit and miss. City budget cuts have, in recent years, turned code enforcement into a reactive enterprise. Instead of going out to find potential code violations, the city awaits complaints to investigate.
"A policy you know you're not going to fully implement, it's not good policy," he said in an interview after the meeting. "I think we were trying to do something that was feel-good for the moment."
Mr. Johnson, who's worked in drug rehabilitation, said many things drove his vote against the proposed ordinance. One was anger at the city staff for bringing it before the commission. In a previous meeting, commission members agreed instead of enacting an ordinance to pass a resolution urging the state legislature to do more to criminalize the synthetic drugs.
"We had a consensus at the last meeting," he said. "It was disrespectful for leadership to come to a consensus and have staff come to us with something different. I'm very disappointed in staff."
At the meeting, Michael Pleus explained what happened.
"I put it on the agenda," he told commission members at the meeting. "It was not exactly what you asked for, but I wanted to give you the option (to vote on it)."
Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation banning 142 chemical designations containing hallucinogenic substances. Area law-enforcement officials say that as legislators ban chemicals, makers go to work redesigning their products to be legal.
According to Ms. Swiderski, all of the cities that are about to or have enacted ordinances making the sale of synthetic drugs a code violation were on the east side of the county. Cities on the west side have resisted the movement.
"I guess they don't think there's an issue here," she said.
Robyn Harrington Schmidt -- a founder of Stand UP, a DeLand support group for families affected by drug addiction and abuse -- said in previous interviews that her group is seeing a rapid expansion of synthetic drug use in the area.
"I'm beyond disappointed," she said in an Internet response to questions after the commission vote. "I'm ticked off."