Buckhannon City Council is conducting a study that could lead to some kind of action concerning the control of selling chemical substances that are often abused as drugs within city boundaries.
At Thursday's city council meeting, City Attorney David McCauley contributed a number of news articles from both print and online sources that could help the council familiarize themselves with the harmful effects of such substances that often evade the law. He said no particular business involved in the sale of the products was targeted. Councilmen Scott Preston and Ron Pugh were unable to attend the meeting.
"I think this is a matter that will continue to generate a lot of attention, not only in Buckhannon, but there's all kinds of discussions," McCauley said, adding that Congress and the West Virginia State Legislature also are reviewing the topic.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
John Burrows, co-owner of Mom and Pop’s Hippy Shop near city hall on Main Street in Buckhannon, expressed his concern about the proposed restriction of the sale of potentially dangerous substances that could be abused.
Mayor Kenneth Davidson told the public the reason for the study.
"What we really set out to do was to study this issue and see what the real issues were and what we might do," Mayor Kenneth Davidson said.
Concerned citizens and business owners also attended the council meeting to provide opinions and insight into the matter. Many argued that it is better to allow businesses to sell these substances than to restrict the sales, resulting in the buyer turning to drug dealers who often offer more dangerous drugs in addition to or as an alternative of the abused substances in question.
"Yes, it's labeled 'not for human consumption,' but everybody in this room knows what people are going to do with it," citizen Robert Thompson said. "The products are helpful to people."
Thompson said that when considering the history of the product, some of the chemicals were used medicinally for products such as nebulizers and inhalers.
"These products do help people, they maintain control," Thomas said. "If you take away the product, the only thing that will happen is you're going to open the door for marijuana to come back in."
The substances are known by street names such as bath salts, incense and potpourri, but are not the same chemically as their namesake counterparts that are typically found in department stores. Many who purchase these products use them to get a personal high.
"If you're going to ban potpourri and incense, then it has to be a ban city-wide," Thompson said. "That means Dollar General needs to pull their incense out. You need to have Walmart pull their potpourri off the shelf. Who's going to stop somebody from going and getting that potpourri? Potpourri and incense is potpourri and incense across the board."
"I would rather have that store (Mom and Pop's Hippy Shop) there, than to have all the drug users and methamphetamine users in this town run rampant, or go back to that if they had switched to potpourri," long-time resident Jessica Grandinette said.
Thompson said the ban of the product could cause people to seek it from a drug dealer instead. A trip to the home of a drug dealer could introduce and encourage completely different and more dangerous substances to the user, he said.
Citizen Christina Hall said that other states had legalized the sale of the substances and asked city council also to review and study that option.
John Burrows, a co-owner of Mom and Pop's Hippy Shop, invited council members to come into the store and evaluate what is going on with the sale of the products. He said he does not sell those type of substances to underage buyers, and his business has a strict and well-practiced procedure for checking identification. If they have any questions about the authenticity of a form of identification, Burrows said it is turned away.
"I will not and have not ever sold anything that's against state law," Burrows said. "I'm trying to follow the law. I'm trying to make a living."
He said if the substances are banned he will stop selling them.
"It'll probably fold my business, but I'll be out of that business," Burrows said. "No amount of money is worth me being in trouble for."
Councilman John Waltz suggested requesting the assistance of West Virginia Wesleyan College students who have spent a great deal of time studying the topic. The study will continue and will be discussed at 7 p.m. during the Jan. 17 meeting of Buckhannon City Council. Council may also be ready to make a decision regarding the matter at that time.
Councilmen Scott Preston and Ron Pugh were unable to attend Thursday's meeting.