Law enforcement officials ask for synthetic marijuana ban
Local law enforcement expressed its concern about synthetic marijuana to a panel of legislators Wednesday during an annual public hearing.
The Lee County Legislative Delegation, made of three local state senators and five local representatives, met at Edison State College to hear from the public and various groups on what they want lawmakers to focus on in 2011.
Interim Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy, speaking on behalf of the law enforcement agencies within the 20th Judicial Circuit, asked that legislators consider banning synthetic marijuana products in Florida. Three teens recently were treated at the Cape Coral Hospital after smoking the substance.
Synthetic chemical compounds, once created for research, are sprayed on a substance like a legal herbal mixture and baked. Imported from countries like China, India and Korea, the products are sold as incense but they are smoked to achieve a “legal high.”
Adverse side effects can include heart palpitations and hallucinations.
Banned in 13 states, the substance is legal in Florida
Murphy noted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent plan to enact an emergency ban on synthetic marijuana products nationwide.
On Nov. 24, the DEA released a notice of intent to temporarily control five chemicals used to make “fake pot.” With the publishing of the final rule, the action will make possessing or selling the chemicals — or the products that contain them — illegal for at least one year while studies are conducted.
Despite the emergency ban, Murphy urged legislators to set state law.
“We would still ask the Florida Legislature in joining with the other states,” he said.
Murphy explained that the federal agency had the ability to act quickly and recognized the dangers associated with the substance in terms of the ban.
“I think it was the proper this to do,” he said.
District 21 Sen. Mike Bennett said lawmakers are creating legislation.
“We’re working on it up there,” he said.
The problem lawmakers are encountering is in the definition of the law. Bennett explained that banning one product today would not cover a new product with a different name next year, so legislators are waiting on the federal government to give them more clarification on the substances.
“We’re got to find the definition of the product,” he said.
According to Murphy, the next step for local law enforcement is to work with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and to offer support in crafting the law.
“There’s obviously a concern that needs to be addressed,” District 37 Sen. Garrett Richter said.
Based on the number of states that have banned the substance, he said it is probably appropriate for Florida lawmakers to review what other states have done. He added that the other states have provided a platform from which to work.
According to Richter, creating law banning the substance only does so much.
“We’ve got to create environments that promote healthy lifestyles,” he said.
Because synthetic marijuana is sold as incense, there is typically no an age restriction on buying it. Only some products state that the substance is not for human consumption.