Michigan legislators are expected to vote this week to strengthen laws banning synthetic marijuana — but some communities aren’t waiting.
Macomb County officials signed an emergency order Monday prohibiting people from selling synthetic marijuana and similar substances — often called K2 or Spice — in the county.
And the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday night to prohibit the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana, said Clerk Catherine Shaughnessy, who introduced the measure.
Shaughnessy said police could begin to enforce the new ordinance as early as Thursday; it is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.
She said officers are eager to rid the community of the synthetic marijuana.
“They just see too many bad things happening with kids, and they want it off the street,” Shaughnessy said.
The actions come amid mounting evidence on the dangers of synthetic marijuana.
The drug, sprayed with chemicals that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), has been growing in popularity among teenagers and young adults, leading to hospitalizations and a host of other problems.
The Free Press reported Sunday that some variations can be legally purchased in Michigan gas stations, tobacco stores, online and at various other outlets — usually for $5-$50.
Current law prohibits some chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, but experts say manufacturers have changed the formula to skirt the laws.
Under Macomb County’s emergency order, any person caught selling synthetic marijuana could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a $200 fine or both, and have the substance confiscated.
County Health Officer Steven Gold said the unusual order falls under the state’s Public Health Code to immediately inform people affected by the “imminent danger” to health or lives. County Executive Mark Hackel said he’s not worried about any legal challenges should someone be found in violation.
As part of the crackdown, residents can report businesses that are in violation on the website http://www.markhackel.com, and that information will be forwarded to the county health department.
Shelby Township resident Jennifer Smith, 31, and her mother attended a news conference Monday wearing hot pink shirts with “Ban K2” on the front and “K2 not for human consumption” on the back.
Smith said her brother, now 19, started using K2 and bath salts when he was 17 and is now in rehab.
“We would like all synthetic drugs to be illegal in Michigan,” she said. “It shouldn’t be for any age or anybody.”
In West Bloomfield, the ordinance was written after officials become aware of violent crimes in metro Detroit involving teens and young adults said to have used Spice and K2, said Shaughnessy.
The recent incidents include the May 26 overdose death of an 18-year-old next to a private lake in Bloomfield Township; the May 18 death of Jonathan Hoffman, 17, of West Bloomfield, who police say was shot to death by his grandmother, and the April 16 attack on the Cipriano family in Farmington Hills that has led to charges against Tucker Cipriano, 19, and Mitchell Young, 20.
State Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, R-Richmond, planned to discuss Spice on Monday night at a Chesterfield Township board meeting, and the Shelby Township Board of Trustees is expected tonight to discuss an ordinance banning such products, Supervisor Richard Stathakis said.
Michigan lawmakers are to discuss bills to ban synthetic marijuana at a special House Judicial Committee meeting in Lansing this morning.
A package of bills would allow the state to temporarily ban a substance if the director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, working with the Michigan Board of Pharmacy, deems it an imminent danger to people’s health, House Judicial Committee Chairman Rep. John Walsh said.
Another bill that passed the state Senate last week would make synthetic marijuana and bath salts illegal to sell.
“We need to provide our law enforcement agencies, our health care agencies (with) enough power to move quickly to protect our citizens,” Walsh said.
Synthetic marijuana, made of plant material and sprayed with chemicals that mimic THC, comes in several flavors. Side effects can include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, seizures, paranoia, loss of physical control and hallucinations, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Wayne County is working with its Department of Health and Human Services for a quicker solution to the synthetic marijuana problem, but officials said a permanent solution lies with state lawmakers.
“We think the only long-term solution is going to be a state ban,” said county spokesman Tom Downey.
Macomb and Oakland counties both announced programs in recent days where local businesses that pledge not to sell synthetic marijuana can get a sign for their window letting customers know.
Bill Miskokomon, 45, of Shelby Township organized a rally Saturday at a Citgo gas station in the township where his son bought K2 and similar products to feed his addiction. He said he thinks Macomb County’s efforts will raise awareness of the products, but he doesn’t think businesses will comply with the new rules.
“It’s all of our jobs to police this,” he said.