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Local Bans on Synthetic Pot Cause Headaches in Wisconsin: Part I

While synthetic marijuana (or synthetic pot) has been around since the new millennium it has only gained national attention in the last year. Increased synthetic pot use has spurred action among local lawmakers and resulted in drug charges for some users.

The drug mimics the high from marijuana but contains none of the same ingredients. Instead, this new drug is composed of several chemicals, all of which are currently legal. In addition to being called synthetic pot, the drug also goes by several other names: "Spice," "K2" and "Genie."

Because the drug is so new, there is not yet a federal law which bans possession or sale. Instead, the federal government has left the decision up to local lawmakers. Milwaukee was the first city in Wisconsin to ban synthetic pot. Since then, surrounding suburbs have adopted similar bans. All in all, eight additional suburbs have passed bans, with several other cities right behind them.

Here's the problem: with all these cities adopting their own legislation and fines at their own pace, a typical user of synthetic pot could be breaking the law without realizing it. The suburbs of Milwaukee are so close together that it is sometimes difficult to tell where one ends and another begins. Also, city boundaries change; this can mean the difference between obeying the law and being charged with a drug crime.

This was the unfortunate result for one Wisconsin resident. In November, she was arrested for selling synthetic pot out of her van. The city line between Shorewood and Whitefish Bay happened to be on the block where she was parked. At the time, Shorewood had passed a ban, while Whitefish Bay had not. She thought she was in Whitefish Bay but she was unfortunately mistaken. To complicate things further, the property where her car was parked used to be in Whitefish Bay. Shorewood had recently annexed it.

These piecemeal bans on Synthetic Pot will likely result in many more fines and criminal charges for people who don't realize they are breaking the law. Unless a statewide ban is enacted, Synthetic Pot will continue to cause legal problems for users whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In my next post, I'll talk about some of the reasons synthetic pot is still under debate. Look for it later this week.

Source: Journal Sentinel online, "More suburbs ban synthetic pot," Tom Tolan, 12 December 2010

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