A bi-partisan bill pending before the state Legislature would criminalize the possession and sale of synthetic marijuana in the state. Penalties for the substance – which is still sold in some Wisconsin head shops – would mirror those for the possession and sale of actual marijuana. Some cities in Southeastern Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, have already banned the chemicals targeted by the bill.
The legislation lists eight chemical compounds – “synthetic cannabinoids” – that would be criminalized. Each has a chemical structure approximating tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary active ingredient in marijuana. These marijuana imitators are generally manufactured in foreign countries, sprayed onto plant-like smokable material and sold in U.S. head shops or through online retailers.
The brands, such as K2 and Spice, market the product as incense. Packages are labeled, “not for human consumption.” Users say these products, when smoked, produce a brief, marijuana-style high. Negative side effects reported are similar to those for other hallucinogenic drugs and include anxiety, racing heart, elevated blood pressure, tremors and hallucinations.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is still considering whether to classify synthetic marijuana as a controlled substance.
That’s what Wisconsin’s bill would do. Possession of synthetic marijuana would be a misdemeanor carrying a jail term of up to six months, unless the defendant has a prior drug offense of some kind, then the offense would be a felony carrying up to three years and six months in prison. Manufacturing, delivering or otherwise distributing synthetic marijuana would be a felony carrying up to six years in prison.
In a recent column, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a supporter of the state ban, wrote that K2 and other such substances have grown in popularity in this state since 2009 and are now widely available.
“People, including minors, can walk into any number of convenience stores, gas stations and head shops across the state,” he writes, “and purchase incense, bath salts, plant food and other similar products marketed for in-home use and labeled not for human consumption.” Many of these products, he says, contain synthetic marijuana that is “smoked, snorted or otherwise ingested” after the purchaser gets home.
The bill also criminalizes two other hallucinogenic chemicals (“2C-I” and “PMA”) sometimes added to smokable incense.
Earlier this year, Milwaukee, Waukesha and Glendale all passed ordinances banning synthetic marijuana. Under these laws, possession is not a crime, only a municipal violation carrying a fine.