Elgin officials gave preliminary approval Wednesday night to a new law that would crack down on the sale, delivery, possession and use of synthetic drugs -- substances that are designed to mimic the effects of certain illegal drugs.
If the city council endorses the measure, those who sell or use synthetic drugs would be subject to fines and community service.
While the substances aren't a big problem in Elgin, Councilman John Prigge is big on being proactive with this particular issue.
"I think it's a good way to get a handle on something in advance ... so we don't have to scramble and come up with something afterward," Prigge said.
The synthetic drugs involved are known as "potpourri" and "bath salts."
The "potpourri" contains derivatives of marijuana, while "bath salts" are similar to methamphetamines, Elgin Police Cmdr. Bill Wolf said.
"Potpourri" and "bath salts" are easier to obtain than illegal substances because they're sometimes sold at convenience stores, gas stations or smoke shops -- a drug dealer is not required for the transaction, Wolf said.
In Elgin, between 20 and 30 stores were selling the substances, Wolf said.
While state law covers some of the brand names the substances are sold under, it didn't include all of them, Wolf said. The city ordinance essentially picks up where the state law left off.
"The drug problem evolves, and we just have to keep up with it as people come up with chemicals and new ways to get high," Wolf said.
Nationwide, there were more than 13,000 calls to poison control centers for these synthetic drugs in 2011, according to city documents. That number is up from 3,204 calls in 2010. Most of the cases involved people 25 years or younger.
In Elgin, a $1,000 fine would apply to anyone found guilty of selling, delivering, manufacturing or advertising the synthetic drugs, or to a business that's declared a public nuisance for its involvement with these synthetic drugs.
Meanwhile, a person found guilty of possession or use would face a fine of $500.
The offender would also be required to perform between 50 and 200 hours of community service.
The synthetic substances came to the Elgin Police Department's attention a few years go, Wolf said.
Police recently approached the stores that were selling the substances and told them to stop, in advance of the proposed ordinance and the current state law.
Wolf said all of the stores complied and that police will continue to monitor them.