Northern Michigan residents who worried that local law enforcement officials were moving too slowly to curb the use of synthetic marijuana, can rest a bit easier. On Tuesday the state House and Senate passed a package of bills to outlaw such products and the bills were on their way to Gov. Rick Snyder.
The flurry of activity followed weeks of rising concerns — about the proliferation of the synthetic drugs, the rising number of young people using them, exactly what's in them and their effects on the body and brain.
Shop owners along Front Street in Traverse City had complained about young people they dubbed the "spice girls" who would gather around 10 a.m. nearly every day waiting for the Blue in the Face shop to open so they could buy spice, which has become a generic term for synthetic pot.
Merchants said the customers sometimes smoked their spice right on the street. Some would pass out on park benches, ask passersby for money or doze off in booths in the Subway restaurant next door. Police said users often appeared to be in a "mental stupor." Blue in the Face owner Matt Hunter apparently stopped selling the substance about two weeks ago.
Grand Traverse prosecutor Alan Schneider was reluctant to comment on the spice being sold downtown and police never tested it. The various brands, including Spice and K2, are made to resemble THC, the active ingredient in marijuana and are generally legal if not spiked with illicit drugs. When one version has been banned, manufacturers have simply altered the recipe.
As of Tuesday afternoon it wasn't clear how the new package of bills dealt with that issue. Macomb County recently issued an emergency order prohibiting people from selling synthetic marijuana and similar substances; a health officer said the order fell under the state's Public Health Code to immediately inform people affected by an "imminent danger" to health or lives.
Gov. Snyder will likely waste little time signing the bills, so we should know more about them soon.
And we do need to know more. Even though there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that Spice and K2 both have detrimental effects and have even been linked to violent assaults, it is incumbent on the state to scientifically determine what's in that stuff and what it can do to people.
The more we know the better able we'll be to handle new variations when they show up — which, as long as there's an audience, they almost certainly will