Each week, we're asking each of the Pinellas County sheriff candidates a question that's important to you, the voter, so you can be informed come ballot time.
This week, we asked:
- What role should the Sheriff's Office have in shaping legislation related to prescription medication abuse and "legal highs" such as herbal incenses (i.e., K2, Spice and bath salts)?
Scott Swope answers:
The duty of the Sheriff’s Office is to protect its citizens, even if that means taking the lead on shaping county ordinances to accomplish its goals. As the highest law enforcement agency in the county, the Sheriff’s Office must keep a pulse on the public safety issues plaguing the community. Prescription medication abuse has existed for as long as there have been prescription medications. What is unfortunate is how “pill mills” have been allowed to flourish under relatively lax state and local regulations. The abuse of oxycodone-based prescription medications has become an epidemic. For nearly five years, Pinellas County has led the state in per capita oxycodone-related deaths. In fact, Pinellas leads the nation. The main source of this problem was the unchecked rate at which pill mills were allowed to dispense this highly addictive medication. The Sheriff’s Office should have taken the lead in shaping county ordinances to stop this trend. Instead, while the Sheriff’s Office focused its resources on conducting surveillance on a hydroponics equipment store, the pill mill problem became an epidemic.
The proliferation of “legal high” substances, such as K2 and spice, is a relatively new phenomenon with problems of its own. No prescription is necessary to buy these substances, but the side effects they produce should not go unnoticed. Attempts at making these substances illegal are almost always futile because the ingredients need only be altered slightly to avoid illegality. There has been a lot of press recently about side effects related to smoking bath salts, K2, and the like. Currently, these items are appealing to our youth, and a good, hard look needs to be taken as to why that is.
One significant difference between my Republican opponents and me is that I fully support the decriminalization of marijuana. This is not a novel, left-wing agenda item reserved for hippies. Florida should join the 19 other states, and the District of Columbia, in enacting some form of marijuana decriminalization. Whether that decriminalization comes in the form of medical marijuana regulation, issuance of civil fines rather than criminal prosecutions, or the outright regulation and taxation of marijuana sales is not my decision to make. But I strongly believe that Pinellas County taxpayers have borne the financial burden of Florida’s absolute prohibition of marijuana for long enough. As Sheriff, I would encourage the Pinellas County Commission to pass a county ordinance making possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction, which could be satisfied by paying a fine. This would save the taxpayers millions of dollars and at the same time generate revenues for the county government. In these economic times, when the County Commission is discussing raising our property taxes to fund ongoing projects, it is time to look at this issue and see the logic behind it.
We're asking one more question before the sheriff's candidate debate on July 17 at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater Octagon Center, 2470 Nursery Road (6:30 p.m.).
Let us know what issue you'd like to hear about from the sheriff's candidates! You can either participate in the poll below to help us finalize our last question or suggest one of your own. We'll use your input to ask about issues you care about most.
The sheriff's candidate debate is free to attend, or you can watch Patch's live streaming coverage. It is sponsored by Patch, the National Armed Services & Law Enforcement Memorial Museum and Bay News 9.
Swope on previous Patch Podiums: