Lance Dyer, a Bremen resident, went before the Council to discuss the dangers of “synthetic marijuana” and to urge council members to pass an ordinance that would go further than a law signed earlier in the day by Gov. Nathan Deal. On Monday, Dyer made a similar appeal before the Haralson County Commission, which is considering an ordinance for the entire county.
“Synthetic marijuana” has been sold at gas stations and convenience stores across the state under such brand names as Spice, K-2, Genie, Phat Cat and others. Such synthetic cannabinoids contain marijuana-like compounds combined with various forms of dried vegetation. Users considered them a “legal high” in that the products could be bought legally and, while producing a “high” similar to marijuana, could not be detected under the most commonly used blood and urine screens.
A press release from Gov. Deal’s office states that research has shown these products can cause psychosis and increase the tendency of violent behavior. Other research has linked the products to hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, paranoia and the aggravation of psychoses in people who otherwise can manage such conditions.
The law signed by Gov. Deal on Tuesday had swiftly passed through the Legislature on the heels of widespread alarm by law officers across the state. It is named “Chase’s Law,” after a 16-year-old Peachtree City youth who died by drowning in a hot tub after smoking one of the products. It strengthened an earlier law targeting similar products, but which gave manufacturers a loophole, allowing them to substitute different chemicals to make it. The new law covers a much wider variety of chemicals.
The Buchanan council reviewed copies of an ordinance based on one already in effect in Heflin, Ala. Dyer told council members that the ordinance would go further than “Chase’s Law” by not only banning the products, but also the paraphernalia associated with smoking marijuana and similar substances. Dyer’s emotional appeal to the Council stemmed from the fact that his son – an athlete of promise, with no behavioral problems – died March 10 after using one of the products.
“What you have in front of you gives you the ability to mirror the state, it gives you the ability to stop these businesses cold in their tracks, it gives you the ability the state has not gone (to) to remove the paraphernalia,” Dyer told council members.
A representative of the City Attorney said he would review the proposed ordinance and advise the Council in time for its next meeting.
In other business, the council members heard from a series of people, most of whom were members of the city police force, who spoke in favor of Chief Lambert and his administration.
The statements were in response to accusations made against the chief at the council’s meeting on March 13. A former employee of the police department had listed 12 charges concerning the chief’s personal conduct and those of the police department, prompting a heated response by the chief during the open meeting.
Former city Councilman Lane Ayers told the Council he was “very concerned and disturbed” by the accusations made at the previous meeting, and by Lambert’s response to them. Speaking directly to Lambert, Ayers said:
“I take strong offense to the statements that you made in the meeting … that our previous policemen did not do their jobs. You stated the department was never run right until you came. We’ve had a well-run police department here for years; we’ve had gentlemen who were dedicated and the ladies were dedicated to the operation, to the city and its people, and we didn’t the have friction that we do now.”
At the March 13 meeting, Councilman Kenny Hughes indicated that there would be an investigation of the charges. Ayers said he wanted to know the results of such a review and asked who would do the investigation – “the city, the city attorney, or POST,” referring to the Georgia Peace Offices Standards and Training Council, which sets training standards for law officers across the state.
Before Ayers had spoken, Lambert and his department’s actions were defended by citizen Roger Shirley, 75, who animatedly described the danger faced by police when dealing with drug dealers and others who might be – as he said he used to be – “wild as a buck.”
“When you get out there (and) that speed limit sign says 55 mph, bless God, that’s for you, that’s for anybody else,” he told the attendees of the meeting. “If the police catch you going 60 miles an hour, don’t say (they) harassed (you) – they’re doing their job.”
Also speaking up for the chief was Jamie Epling, of Epling Lawnmower Service, who told the Council she had never heard from investigations into two break-ins at her business dating from 8 and 5 years ago, but that she appreciated increased patrols in the last two years.
Afterwards four current officers of the police department spoke in favor of the chief, as did Lambert’s administrative assistant, Darlene Smith, who said she was “not for” Lambert when he was first appointed, but had since changed her mind. “We’re all afraid of change,” she said.
The police officers who spoke – Capt. Bobby Patterson, Jennifer Turner, Richard McCain and Joe Phagan – all credited the chief for creating an atmosphere of “family” within the department.
Also Tuesday, the City Council reviewed a resolution, to be approved at their next meeting, to endorse a plan by the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to begin a non-profit entity to rehabilitate distressed houses so they can be sold to new owners and generate tax revenue for the city.
Chief Lambert told the Council that within a year, some street addresses in the city may have to be changed to integrate those addresses within the 911 system. For example, if houses numbered in the 100s are followed by a significant jump in numbers, such as 400, then the 400 series would have to be renumbered as 200.
The Council also heard from Joye Carroll of the state Department of Labor’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program. Ms. Carroll said she is currently working with area businesses to “spread the word” about the full range of services offered under the program, which are not limited to those who were physically disabled. She said the program also helps students with learning disabilities, employees with substance abuse issues, the hearing-impaired and others.