Lansing has not been tone deaf to the concerns raised by some officials — including some from right here in west Oakland County — about the dangers associated with the use of, and addiction to, a variety of types of synthetic marijuana, including Spice, as well as other similar substances marketed as K2, fake marijuana, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others. Yet after the state Senate passed a bill last year that would make illegal those substances, which experts say are becoming more prevalent among teens and young adults, the state House of Representatives has yet to give the legislation its seal of approval. We hope the state’s lower chamber takes up state Sen. Rick Jones’ (R-Grand Ledge) Senate Bill (SB) 99 before the legislative session ends and once again makes illegal the synthetic marijuana substances that are causing concern here locally and across the state of Michigan.
The Jones legislation would not have been needed were it not for what we chalk up to as an “Oops” moment in the waning days of the 95th state Legislature’s term in office.
After the state Legislature during the last legislative session made illegal the possession and use of synthetic marijuana compounds, including Spice and K2, with Public Act (PA) 169 of 2010, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2010, lawmakers approved PA 352 of 2010, which took effect on Dec. 22, 2010. Conflicting language in the two new state laws had the practical effect of making legal again those substances that had been illegal for less than three months.
When then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, signed into law PA 352, she also issued a signing statement noting the inadvertent repeal of the ban on synthetic marijuana compounds and urged the incoming state Legislature — the one currently in office — to restore the criminal penalties that were, for a short time in 2010, associated with the use and possession of such compounds.
Those criminal penalties that were approved by lawmakers, when the state Senate had a Republican majority and the state House was controlled by Democrats, stipulated that someone who knowingly or intentionally possesses a synthetic marijuana compound is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, a maximum fine of $2,000, or both — penalties similar to those for someone who is convicted of marijuana possession.
And the state Senate acted quickly after its 38 members were sworn into office in January 2011, passing Jones’ legislation on Feb. 15, 2011 in a 37-0 vote, with both state Sens. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) and David Robertson (R-Waterford) casting their votes in favor of SB 99.
Yet for over a year, the legislation has languished in the state House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. John Walsh (R-Livonia). That should change and members of the state House need to pass SB 99.
Spice and other synthetic marijuana compounds have emerged as a concern for area officials, some of whom are holding a public forum on the dangers of Spice and other such compounds.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that 11.4 percent of high school seniors in a 2011 survey reported using the drug — which produces symptoms such as delusions; elevated blood pressure; elevated heart rate; hallucinations; heart palpitations; increased agitation; nausea; pale skin; burned lungs; panic attacks; seizures; vomiting; overdoses; and even death — in the prior year, making it the second most frequently used drug among that same demographic.
We understand that there are other pressing issues — not the least of which is the state budget for the next fiscal year that starts in October — that lawmakers are dealing with on a day to day basis. But the legwork has already been done to make Spice and other synthetic marijuana compounds illegal, both by the 95th state Legislature and the state Senate in the 96th state Legislature. Lawmakers in both parties, therefore, are generally in agreement about the need to put synthetic marijuana compounds in the same criminal category as marijuana.
We see no reason why the current incarnation of the state House shouldn’t recriminalize the use and possession of such drugs. If lawmakers need further proof of the harm Spice and other similar synthetic marijuana compounds can cause, they only need to attend the forum held at the Waterford Township Auditorium on Thursday, March 21 for proof.
It’s time for the state House to quit dawdling on this issue, and we hope they act soon.