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Miami-Dade commissioners give preliminary OK to banning sales of ‘bath salts’

Miami-Dade commissioners gave the initial nod Tuesday to outlawing sales of “bath salts,” the synthetic drug that can make users aggressive and often violent.

Earlier this month the same board gave preliminary approval to banning sales of synthetic marijuana. But it’s the bath salts that have been getting the headlines.

With brand names like Blue Silk, Hurricane Charley and Ivory Snow, the substance, which can be purchased at many convenience stores and is inhaled, smoked or digested, is easily accessible.

Police told commissioners last month that they have seen an increase in hospital visits by people using bath salts, some of whom were acting aggressively. They also discussed the difficulty of ridding the streets of the substances.

The main problem for law enforcement: Manufacturers have managed to sidestep state law banning dozens of the stimulants by slightly altering the drugs’ chemical makeup.

The county ordinance won preliminary approval with a unanimous vote and without discussion Tuesday. It is up for final approval on July 3.

It goes a step further than state law by banning sales or advertising displays for “anything structurally similar” to a list of banned compounds. Violators could face $500 in fines and up to 60 days in jail.

The county’s move comes on the heels of a similar ordinance passed in Miami last week. Several other South Florida cities are also considering similar measures.

Bath salts became an explosive issue after some law officers speculated that the drug may have fueled last month’s attack on the MacArthur Causeway, in which attacker Rudy Eugene gnawed off parts of the face of victim Ronald Poppo. Toxicology results in the case have not yet been released.

Some salts have been found to contain relatively harmless additives like caffeine and aspirin. But more common are synthetic versions of cathinone, a chemical similar to amphetamines that acts as a stimulant.

Commissioners also approved, without discussion, a $50 million plan by Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones to fund a host of affordable housing projects in Overtown.

The unanimous vote will allow Miami to sell bonds to complete six projects with some commercial space and build or rehab up to 800 affordable housing units in an area badly in need of low-income housing. Miami would use income from the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency to pay the bond debt.

The plan includes spending $10 million for 100 units at Lyric Place, and another $3 million there for retail space and a 300-space parking garage. Another $10 million would be spent on a mixed-used development called St. John Overtown Plaza, $8 million for the 60-unit Culmer Center Housing Development, $7.5 million for more housing with a computer lab and fitness center, and $15 million to rehabilitate three apartments and 435 units at Town Park.

Also Tuesday, commissioners voted unanimously to urge the federal government to prohibit the packaging and sale of candy-flavored tobacco products. Commissioner Sally Heyman, the measure’s sponsor, argued the products are being marketed to children.

Last month, commissioners gave preliminary approval to outlawing the sale of the products, including favorites like Swisher Sweet cigars. But Heyman withdrew her support, saying she wanted to stop youth from chewing tobacco but did not want to hurt small businesses that sell the products.

The new measure also calls on the Florida Legislature to prohibit the products, and directs the county’s lobbyist to support such a ban in Tallahassee.

In other business, commissioners voted to oppose a proposal by Citizens Property Insurance, the state insurer of last resort, to remove a 10-percent cap on rate hikes for policy holders.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent Citizens’ interim president a letter last month opposing the move. Several South Florida Republican state lawmakers have also bucked their party and spoken against the proposal, which Citizens is calling a necessary change to reduce the company’s risk.