LANSING - A bill giving law enforcement and community health agencies more power in dealing with the issues of synthetic drugs has been accepted by both the state House and Senate.
House Bill No. 5338 was written to deal with the issues of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs with formulas that can be easily altered.
"All they have to do is just vary the chemical on a molecular level to avoid the substance being illegal," said State Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), who sponsored the bill.
Photo courtesy of DEA
Synthetic marijuana - often sold as Spice, K2, or "herbal incense" - is created by adding chemicals to other plant materials. The chemicals sprayed on the plant material mimic THC, the drug in marijuana that gives it its hallucinogenic effect. Currently, it can take as long as a year for a single chemical formula to be made illegal once it has been reported to community health agencies.
"We're hoping after 30 days a new chemical can be removed from the market, and that's going to put a real kink in the money making for the people selling these substances," said McBroom.
If signed by the governor, the bill would allow for substances that are reported to health departments to be reviewed by the Michigan Board of Pharmacy and then placed on an emergency schedule. Once on the schedule, substances are treated as a controlled substance for 12 months.
"Local law enforcement can pursue the sale or transport of that substance," said McBroom.
The emergency schedule will be brought before the legislature sometime in that 12-month period. If the legislature believes that a substance needs to be controlled it will be made illegal indefinitely. Drugs not made illegal by the legislature will become legal again after the 12-month emergency schedule expires.
"There was some concern over some rural agencies trying to ban sugar," said McBroom. "There's a number of steps to take to protect that process, and ultimately the legislature has the ability to say you're way out of line."
The designer drugs affected by this bill can be significantly more potent than their non-designer counterparts. "The synthetic marijuana, or cannabinoids, are at least 10 times more potent than your marijuana," said George Sailer, a State Police detective lieutenant and commander of the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team.
"The biggest concern with these synthetic cannabinoids is we don't know how they're going to affect people, you know, six months, nine months, a year down the road," added Sailer.
McBroom has received hundreds of letters from Upper Peninsula residents drawing attention to the problem. "I'd like to thank cities, townships, schools, and law enforcement for stepping up and sending letters so that I could show my colleagues that this is a problem," said McBroom. "It's a tribute to the folks of our area that they saw this problem and told me about it last November."
The bill was introduced in February. "It's been a long, drawn out process to do this," said McBroom. "I would have liked to have got this done months ago when it was just the Upper Peninsula suffering. Unfortunately, it has moved downstate."
Law enforcement in the Upper Peninsula has been dealing with the issues of synthetic marijuana for more than a year. "We were kind of on the cutting edge, so to speak," said Sailer. "They weren't having the same volume as we were up here."
The bill will now go before Gov. Rick Snyder for final approval.