County Moves to Ban Synthetic Drugs

A program to eliminate the sale of synthetic marijuana – known as “spice” and sold legally as K2, Yucatan Fire and other brand names – as well as other synthetic drugs is being launched by the Washtenaw County public health department this week. Dick Fleece, the county’s public health director, briefed the county board of commissioners at their June 6, 2012 meeting. This was not an action of the county board, but rather by the public health department.

A group of county officials had met earlier in the day to develop a response for what’s perceived as a dangerous public health threat, Fleece reported. They had decided to respond with a carrot-and-stick approach. The plan entails asking businesses to voluntarily stop selling these products – and if they agree, they’ll be given a decal indicating that they are part of this program. If they refuse, Fleece said he has the authority to issue a public health order that would direct the businesses to remove these products from their shelves. If the businesses don’t comply with the order, they can be taken to court, he said. Fleece plans to issue a press release with additional details about the program on Thursday, June 7. [.pdf of press release] [.pdf of public health notice]

While commissioners acknowledged that synthetic drugs are dangerous – effects can include hallucinations, aggression, paranoia, and seizures – there were some questions for Fleece about why the county is targeting these particular products, which are sold legally. Fleece indicated that there’s heightened concern among residents and coverage of the issue in nearly every media outlet nationally. Commissioners were provided with a packet of materials about the effects of the drugs. Therese Doud, prevention coordinator for the county’s public health department commented on use of K2 in Washtenaw County, indicating it was assumed to be higher than just the reported cases, based on national trends.

Commissioner Yousef Rabhi said it was fascinating to watch the recent heightened concern about these products, given that they’ve been available for years. He noted that the legalization of natural marijuana would obviate the need for synthetic versions. The state’s continuing efforts to constrain the use of medical marijuana – even though voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of that drug for medical purposes – should be part of the discussion, he said.

Commissioner Alicia Ping advocated for putting a priority on education, alerting people to the dangers of these and other products – legal and illegal – that can be used in harmful ways. She noted that the state is expected to take action against synthetic drugs, and she felt the county was rushing to do something that it didn’t need to do. But commissioner Wes Prater argued that the county needed to act now, because the danger is immediate. It would be wrong for the county simply to do nothing, he said.

This brief was filed soon after adjournment of the June 6 board meeting. A more detailed report will follow: [link]