MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Miami-Dade commissioners have passed on first reading a ban on the sale of synthetic marijuana.
Wrapped in a colorful package with a catchy name, synthetic marijuana — also known as Spice or K2 — is marketed as incense, is not detectable in most drug tests and is labeled “not for human consumption.”
Law enforcement officials, legislators and drug experts described it as “dangerous” and even deadly, which is why Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, a former police officer, sponsored the ordinance to prohibit sales of any products that imitate marijuana.
Despite state and federal efforts to ban the chemicals used to the make the drug, manufacturers have worked around the ban by developing new chemical configurations that are not prohibited.
Cities in Miami-Dade and Broward, including Sweetwater and Sunrise, have approved or considered banning the sale and purchase of all fake pot products, whether the chemical compounds are banned or not.
The products are generally purchased by teens or young adults, police said, and are often packaged as incense and sold at gas stations, convenience stores and tattoo parlors.
One unidentified South Florida gas station clerk recently told CBS4 News that he sells about 100 packets a day.
And the product isn’t cheap. Generally sold by the gram, it can cost anywhere from $20 to $40 per packet, much more than spending a couple of dollars on incense.
Police said they became aware of the substance, which mimics the resin in marijuana, after Homestead Hospital official’s contacted Miami-Dade police about a rash of emergency room visits.
The products can be 200 to 800 times more potent than marijuana, and often result in hallucinations or the shutting down of vital organs. They start as a liquid that chemists turn into a powder, then spray on products like incense. They take on the scent of the incense, grass or other or material they are sprayed onto.
The state tried to ban the substance in March, but chemist’s quickly adapted, and changed components of the compound to make it legal.
Florida lawmakers are taking aim at the drug again this year.
Representative Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola) is sponsoring legislation that would place more of the chemical compounds used to make Spice on the restricted substances list. Under the new law, possession, manufacture or sale of the drug would be a third degree felony in Florida.
Ingram said the bill is a priority of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who also pushed for legislation last year to ban the drug known as bath salts.
Under the county measure, a person could face a fine of $500 or up to 60 days in jail, or both, for selling or buying synthetic marijuana.
Now that commissioners have given preliminary approval to Martinez’s proposal, it will be vetted by a committee of commissioners before returning to the full board for a final vote.
Here’s more evidence of the drug’s dangers, according to experts — the number of people becoming sick on synthetic marijuana has nearly doubled in Florida since 2010 and more than doubled nationally in that time, according to the Florida Poison Control Center.