LANSING - Michigan joined a growing number of states with laws aimed at snuffing out so-called synthetic marijuana on Tuesday when the governor signed legislation outlawing the substances, which are often sold under the names Spice or K2 in stores.
Synthetic marijuana has been available in stores as a mix of dried herbs and spices sprayed with chemicals.
The substances have been blamed for health problems and violent behavior, especially among young people.
This file photo shows a package of K2, a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed bills banning so-called synthetic marijuana. The substance, sold under trade names like Spice and K2, has been available in stores for some time. It has been blamed for health problems and violent behavior, especially among young people. (AP file photo)
"This is overdue," said Gov. Rick Snyder before signing the package of bills. "Synthetic drugs are a very bad thing. We need to continue to learn that there are new variations coming. K2 is the next variation."
Capt. Blake Reiboldt of the Marquette Police Department said the new law will simplify prosecution of cases involving synthetic drugs, as it broadens the standards on what chemicals are banned.
"They (drug manufacturers) would change the recipe on these drugs to make them legal, to fall within the legal guidelines. Now, basically, this new law outlaws that," Reiboldt said. "It makes it a lot easier to prosecute. It really gives us some teeth as far as pursuing criminal charges against individuals who choose to sell this or possess it."
The new state laws also allow the Department of Community Health to declare health dangers when other synthetic drugs pop up. The law allows the department to call the Board of Pharmacy within 10 days and "ban the sale of this poison, because that's exactly what it is," said Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge who sponsored one of the Senate bills.
"Parents should check their children's bedrooms. They should look for this product. Stores, if you're still selling this - gas stations, stores - we're coming to get you. You're going to go to jail. Here's your chance. Throw it away tonight," he said.
The new laws target synthetic cannabinoids and products sometimes referred to as bath salts. The laws list chemical classifications that are prohibited and grants Michigan State Police authority to remove those drugs from stores by July 1 if businesses haven't done so.
At least 40 states have banned synthetic cannabinoids, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under Michigan's new laws, anyone caught manufacturing, distributing or selling the substances can be charged with a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. For possession, the maximum sentence is two years.
Anyone convicted of using synthetic marijuana could be hit with a misdemeanor that carries a possible one-year jail sentence.
A "K2 is NOT OK" campaign is being kicked off by state police who said synthetic drugs also are sold as Chronic Hypnotic, Happy Smurf, Cloud Nine and Hurricane Charlie, among other names.
Lt. Bob Pernaski of the Michigan State Police's Negaunee post said state police in the area will work to raise awareness of the new law through the end of June.
"We want to put the word out that we are going to take a zero tolerance stance on the buying, selling and using of these types of substances," Pernaski said. "After July 1, we're going to start taking enforcement action if people don't comply."
Several counties and communities across the state already have enacted their own measures banning the sale of synthetic marijuana.
After those measures were passed locally, some convenience stores and gas stations received surprise visits from police making sure the items had been removed from shelves and storerooms.
The sale and use of synthetic drugs has been a problem in the Marquette area as well, with one well-known downtown Marquette business shut down forever as a result.
Marquette Backroom Obsessions owner Michael Jestila made a plea deal with the Marquette County Prosecutor's office barring him from ever doing business in the county again.
The deal was made after Jestila was originally charged with several things, included the unlawful delivery and manufacture of JWH-250, a substance commonly found in synthetic marijuana.
The Michigan Food and Beverage Association said Tuesday that retailers will be asked to display window decals letting customers know they are in compliance with the law. The trade organization said it already has pushed a "no sale" policy among its more than 3,500 members, which include restaurants.
Reiboldt said as new laws have continued to ban certain types of synthetic drugs, their distribution is moving from storefronts to the Internet.
"What's happening now is, people are ordering a lot of this stuff online, getting it delivered and dispensing it like they would some of the other drugs, kind of an off the radar type of thing," Reiboldt said. "But this new law will allow us to pursue criminal charges against individuals, very much like we would if it was one of the other drugs, like cocaine or heroine or methamphetamine."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.