Fake pot ruling could face tweaks

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Kevin Hoffman
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
— Whitewater City Council on Tuesday discussed changes to a city ordinance banning synthetic marijuana that would allow police to treat the crime like other drug offenses.

The amended ban on fake marijuana falls in line with new state statutes passed in June. Whitewater Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher said the city ordinance would tie synthetic pot with other marijuana offenses, making the first offense an ordinance violation and the second a crime.

City council Tuesday approved a first reading. It likely will come back to the board at its next meeting Dec. 20.

Whitewater passed a city ordinance June 21 outlawing the sale or possession of the substance. Also in June, legislation co-authored by Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, was approved at the state level.

Several other communities in the area, including Janesville, Milton and Evansville, passed similar ordinances.

Whitewater's ordinance created a "quandary" with UW-Whitewater, campus Police Chief Matt Kiederlen said. Without a state law, the synthetic drug would have been banned throughout the city but legal on campus.

The state law eliminated those concerns.

Otterbacher said the police department continues to respond to medical emergencies from residents who have used synthetic pot, such as K-2 and Spice. She called the substances more dangerous than marijuana, based on the number of medical calls the department receives.

When Whitewater passed its ordinance in June, one store in the city still was selling a product called "Purple Spice" that carried an image of the cartoon character Scooby Doo. Opponents have long criticized various brands for marketing to children.

Otterbacher said officers visited the store the next day to have them take it off the shelves.

Otterbacher didn't have exact figures, but she said the department already has issued citations in the five months the ordinance has been in effect.

The amended ordinance, if approved at the next meeting, would impose fines of $300 to $700 for those caught selling or possessing synthetic marijuana. Like marijuana offenses, offenders could be prosecuted based on the amount possessed and intent to deliver.

Last updated: 7:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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