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Synthetic pot bans passed in Milton, Clinton

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
November 18, 2010

Milton and Clinton have banned the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana products that officials say are being used by students on school grounds and have made other residents ill.


The Milton City Council approved an ordinance this week that will impose a fine of $500 for possession and sale of herbal products containing synthetic cannabinoidsóchemicals officials say mimic the intoxicating effects of marijuana.


Under a similar ordinance, the Clinton Village Board approved fines of $500 for possession and $3,000 for sale of the products.


The products are sold at area gas stations and specialty shops packaged under the brand names "Spice" and "K2," among others.


The bans are the first of their kind in Rock County, but are similar to bans on synthetic marijuana products already in place in Milwaukee, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Superior and Wausau.


Synthetic marijuana products are not listed as controlled substances under state or federal law, although a few state lawmakers say they plan to introduce legislation in 2011 that would make such substances illegal.


For now, municipalities statewide are writing their own rules on the products.


"We're trying to have stopgap measures until the state decides to do something with these (synthetic cannabinoids)," Clinton Village Administrator Philip Rath said.


Milton Police Lt. John Conger said Milton police pushed for a city ordinance partly because synthetic marijuana has begun showing up Milton schools.


Conger said a school resource officer at Milton High School this fall approached a few students who appeared intoxicated after they were in a school restroom. The students reportedly told the officer they had smoked "Spice," a type of synthetic marijuana.


Synthetic marijuana products often are marketed as an "herbal" or "incense" with disclaimer labels that say the product is not intended for human consumption.


But Conger said officials wrote the ban under the assumption that most people who buy the products are using them to get high.


"I don't think anybody's going out there and spending $35 on bags of incense to make their house smell better," Conger said.


Officials say synthetic marijuana products are imported from Asia and contain chemicals that are not regulated. Some estimates say the products can have potency 100 times greater than marijuana, officials said.


Officials say people who smoke or ingest synthetic cannabis can have ill effects such as paranoia, hallucinations, nausea or seizures.


Earlier this year, Milton police reported a Milton man was treated medically after ingesting a synthetic cannabis product. The man reportedly went unconscious during an incident police called an "overdose."


In Clinton, three people called for medical assistance and were taken to a hospital for observation Nov. 7 after smoking "Purple Magic," a type of synthetic marijuana marketed as "herbal incense," Rath said.


"The caller said the people had smoked the drug and were freaking out," Rath said.


Rath said that incident prompted village police and officials to draft a ban on synthetic marijuana.


Local police expect challenges enforcing the bans, officials said.


"The difficult part for us in law enforcement is that there is no chemical test for these substances," Conger said.


Conger said police will rely on finding product packaging and getting admissions from people who have gotten sick from using the products.


"Largely, it'll be a matter of keeping up with the trends and what the names are for the products," Conger said.


Milton Mayor Tom Chesmore says he's concerned that despite Milton's ban, synthetic cannabis will continue to filter in from nearby communities such as Janesville, which doesn't have a ban.


"These products are very accessible to kids and will continue to be accessible, and that bothers me," Chesmore said. "Until the state comes on board and reacts to this with a statewide ban, it's going to be an ongoing problem."


Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt and Janesville Police Chief David Moore this week said Janesville is reviewing a possible ordinance banning synthetic marijuana in the city.


Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, plans to introduce an anti-synthetic cannabinoid bill in 2011. Rep. Garey Bies, a Door County Republican, is spearheading efforts to make possession of synthetic marijuana products a crime on par with possession of marijuana, according to reports in the Wausau Daily Herald.



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