FORT WAYNE – Fort Wayne police will soon be able to more aggressively target businesses selling synthetic drugs.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported an ordinance amendment that would allow businesses to be treated as drug houses.
Ken Scheibenberger, the citys drug house coordinator, said local and state efforts to ban the drugs, commonly known as K2 or Spice, failed to curb the problem. He said several small neighborhood convenience stores sell the drugs using passwords or just outside the building.
It is a real problem that we need to deal with, he said.
The council in 2010 passed an ordinance giving city police the ability to levy fines up to $2,500 for possession of synthetic drugs, which users have said gives a marijuana-type high.
Since that time, the state legislature has tried to ban the substances, but Scheibenberger said they have been largely ineffective.
Testing for the substances is difficult and often takes six months, according to city police.
Scheibenberger said makers of the drugs seem to be one step ahead of lawmakers at all times. The substance in the synthetic drug can be changed.
That is why Scheibenberger, a former Allen Superior Court judge, thought police could use its drug house rules to attack businesses that sell synthetic drugs. He learned the citys ordinance dealt only with dwellings. The amendment expands the laws authority to all real estate.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, sponsored the amendment after hearing concerns from constituents about the problem. He said he was hopeful it could lead to removing some of the problems from city streets.
The goal behind this is to stop the proliferation of drugs, he said.
The drug house law gives the city a process for notifying a property owner when a tenant is using the property for suspected drug use. Scheibenberger said he has personally helped property owners evict such tenants from dwellings, and the law change will allow the same to be done for businesses.
Members of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of the amendment Tuesday.
Property owners who dont work to evict such tenants can be held liable under the law and face criminal charges. Citations could range from a fine of up to $500 to an arrest. Nearly 70 drug houses were closed last year in response to more than 900 tips.
The council must take a final vote on the amendment next week, although members rarely change their votes between meetings.