Synthetic cannabinoids in Madison may see a short-lived future after Public Safety Review Committee members approved recommendations Monday to move an ordinance forward that prohibits the possession, sale or display of the drugs.
Synthetic cannabinoids typically found in Madison are chemicals shipped from China in powder form that distributors mix with acetone to spray on leaves, according to Madison Police Department Captain Brian Ackeret. Individuals usually smoke the leaves and therefore expose themselves to “dangerous” risks.
“It’s not regulated by the FDA, it’s based on people doing it on their own and then they sell it to retailers as ‘K2,’ or ‘Spice’ packaging,” Ackeret said. “It looks like it’s safe based on the packaging. You display it at a 7-Eleven, head shop, a gas station.”
Most establishments do not record their synthetic cannabinoid sales because shop owners do not fully understand the legality of the product, according to Ackeret.
The ordinance proposes to set the cost of fines for possession, sale or display of synthetic cannabinoids higher than minor marijuana possession and open container fines. Any individual caught violating the ordinance would be charged between $500 and $1,000 and establishments are subject to fines between $1,000 and $5,000.
“The thing is, it’s not comparable to marijuana because of the dangerousness of the product,” Jennifer Zilavy, assistant city attorney, said. “A kid can get a hold of this and do it one time and end up with brain damage, or dead.”
The idea behind the ordinance is to discourage high schoolers and young adults from using the substances by cutting them off at the source.
“Our primary concern from the law enforcement perspective is the retailers,” Ackeret said. “I think that even just having this ordinance in a few successful prosecutions, people are going to be making financial decisions and say it’s probably not worth that small financial gain.”
Since synthetic cannabinoids appeal mainly to young people, the city will be seeking ways to provide “hold-opens” for first-time convicted individuals violating the ordinance, similar to a probation period.
In these instances, these individuals cannot receive any future convictions for a period of time and may receive smaller fines or dropped charges.