Spice, the drug, is outlawed and found in Leelanau
Use of synthetic marijuana, aka ‘Spice,’ may be on the rise in Leelanau County and area police officers are hoping a new Michigan law that makes the formerly legal drug illegal will curb its use, as well as its over-the-counter sale in head shops.
Del Moore, Chief of Police of Suttons Bay, in the last few months has run across the drug about a dozen times being smoked in cars, at parks and at parties. When he did see the drug being used, or its after-effects, his hands were basically tied.
“We did not, at that point in time, have laws that governs the use of this,” Moore said. “I was hopeful that they would eventually change the laws on this and obviously they did.”
A new law that went into effect on July 1 in Michigan has banned the manufacturing, sale and use of synthetic cannabinoids (marijuana), as well as sythetic cathinones, commonly known as ‘bath salts.’
When smoked, synthetic marijuana has a pungent and flowery odor that is unmistakable, Moore said, and the behavior of those on the drug — ranging from sullen to giddy — reminds him of crack cocaine addicts he dealt with in his former job downstate. He’s also found the packaging — marketed toward younger people with slogans like ‘gone strawnanas’ — and paraphernalia, which includes makeshift ‘pipes’ made of plastic fruit cups covered with aluminum foil.
Use of the drug, which also goes by the names Hayze, K2, Skunk and a host of others, has increased in Leelanau County in the last couple of months with the shutting down of the marijuana collectives a few months ago, Moore said. The drug was being sold in a couple of shops in Traverse City, he said.
“My concern was that because of the accessibility of the drug, that it was going to trickle down to younger teens,” Moore said. “I was waiting with baited breath for that law to change.”
Leelanau County Sheriff Michael Oltersdorf said that he doesn’t know of any shops that have sold or are selling the synthetic marijuana products in Leelanau County.
“But we’re not naive enough to believe that it isn’t being distributed in our county and being used in our region,” Oltersdorf said “It’s here, but so are many other kinds of illegal drugs.”
Joseph T. Hubbell, Leelanau County’s prosecuting attorney, said he was aware of just one recent case of synthetic marijuana used by a juvenile in Suttons Bay. That’s not to say it’s not being used, he said. The drug was not illegal at the time, but now that the laws governing the sale and distribution of the drug are stricter, Hubbell said he may begin to see more cases come across his desk.
According to information from the Michigan Department of Community Health, synthetic marijuana is made from dried herbs and spices that are sprayed with chemicals. When smoked it creates a high similar to THC, which is the main ingredient in marijuana. It is sold in small packages and is labeled as incense, potpourri or herbal smoking blend.
Bath salts, also known as ‘plant food,’ comes in powder, crystal and liquid form and can be ingested, inhaled, injected, smoked or snorted, according to a report from the Michigan State Police. The drug is also sold over-thecounter and has been called Bliss, Aura, Cosmic Blast and Sonic, to name just a few.
Several of the chemicals commonly used in the drugs have been outlawed for a couple of years, but manufacturers would skirt the law by changing the formulas and using chemicals that had not been banned, but had the same effect. The new law adds several more chemicals to the list, but also makes the drugs themselves — synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones, as well as many of their street names — illegal by adding them to the Schedule 1 controlled substance list. That makes manufacturing, delivery or possession with intent to deliver the drug a seven-year felony; possession a two-year felony; and use a one-year misdemeanor. Schedule 1 drugs are those that have no accepted medical use in the United States and have a high potential for abuse. Drugs on the list include heroin, LSD and marijuana.
The new Michigan laws are a good thing, Oltersdorf said, and will work to close some of the loopholes that those manufacturing the drugs were finding, he said, calling it a cat and mouse game. “The chemists would configure something and then it would be outlawed,” he said.
Hubbell agrees. “That was a frustration that Michigan had and a lot of other states, that they would tweak the chemical substance of the compounds and resell it under a different name,” he said.
Until the new law went into effect, the products were sold at convenience stores, gas stations and head shops that sell drug paraphernalia, leading many who use them to believe they are safe, according to the MDCH. But the products are far from safe.
According to the Michigan Poison Control Center, patients have gone to emergency rooms with elevated heart rates and blood pressure, drowsiness, agitation, seizures, tremors and vomiting. Also reported were hallucinations, paranoia, loss of physical control and even psychosis that lasts a week or more after the product has been used. One death from synthetic marijuana has been reported.
Bath salts mimic cocaine and methamphetamines and their use can cause violent behavior, agitation, chest pain, seizures and death.
North Flight EMS in Grand Traverse has responded to several calls from people having medical problems because of the drug — both in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.
“We’ve seen people who have been using it,” said Roye Meis, manager of North Flight Grand Traverse. “They act strange, lethargic, maybe hyper. Some of them are kind of freaking out a little.”
Most of the patients he and others see are not honest about what they’ve been using because they don’t want anybody to know, Meis said. “We always try to make the point that we don’t care, we just want to get them help.”
Jim Heinrich is the manager of the drug detox unit at Dakoske Hall in Traverse City, which also serves clients from Leelanau County.
“We have certainly seen an increase in the last month or two,” said Heinrich, who has worked in drug rehabilitation for 14 years. While he hasn’t seen any of the more severe symptoms, withdrawal from synthetic marijuana causes intense cravings, he said, which can make recovery difficult.
And while concern about drugs like Spice and K2 is justified, the No. 1 problem Meis sees for young people is alcohol.
“By far — there’s nothing close for causing problems,” Meis said.
Oltersdorf said that in Leelanau County the drug of choice for young people is alcohol because it’s more accessible, relatively cheap and socially acceptable. But those who want something different will find their way to new drugs, he said.
“It’s all supply and demand. If somebody wants it ... someone is going to get it for them.”
What parents can do is talk to their children about the dangers of using all drugs, but especially drugs like synthetic marijuana, which is not manufactured in a laboratory where there is any kind of oversight or controls.
“It could be anything,” Oltersdorf said. “All they care about is making money.”