Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 3, 2012

Synthetic marijuana problem has dissipated

Outlawing of 'spice' has minimized the issue, police say

TRAVERSE CITY — A drug problem that reached a fever pitch in summer is now a thing of the past, police said.

Traverse City police in May and June dealt with a host of issues regarding a synthetic marijuana substitute commonly known as “spice.” It was available at local gas stations and at least one downtown shop, leading to complaints about those who arrived like clockwork to get their fix.

Growing concerns about the drug, however, caused state legislators to make it illegal in late June, and police who regularly received calls about the drug rarely deal with it anymore.

“It was just so readily available, and people could get their hands on it so easily,” city police Capt. Steve Morgan said. “Now that you can’t get it so easy, it’s really fallen right off the radar.”

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Al Schneider couldn’t give an exact number of spice possession cases his office has handled since the drug was made illegal, but said it’s been less than five.

Morgan, a patrol officer, said he saw people impaired by the substance. He's glad it's rare these days.

“This stuff was dangerous,” he said. “It’s good that we’re not having people in that kind of harm’s way.”

The Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Department and multi-jurisdictional Traverse Narcotics Team have virtually no run-ins with the drug anymore, Grand Traverse Undersheriff Nate Alger said.

Spice was attractive because it didn’t carry the same legal consequences of marijuana, but now that both substances are illegal, people who want to get high probably gravitate to marijuana instead of spice, Alger said.

“If you’re going to engage in illegal activity, why take the lesser of the two?” he said.

Laurie Wildman, co-owner of Federico’s Design Jewelers on Front Street downtown, was one of several shop owners who complained about spice sales downtown. Her shop is next to Blue in the Face, a business that sold the substance.

Store owners complained that the sales attracted people who fell asleep in nearby shops, panhandled or caused other disturbances. Blue in the Face stopped selling spice before it was made illegal, and Wildman is glad the drug no longer brings problems to her doorstep.

“It’s been very nice. It makes coming to work in the morning more enjoyable,” she said. “You don’t have to look over your shoulder or look out the window and see that kind of activity.”

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