GENOA CITY — In summer 2012, an incident made Police Chief Joe Balog wish he’d proposed an ordinance to ban synthetic marijuana sooner.
“When I first started, there were two 12-year-olds who got a hold of their dad’s (synthetic marijuana),” he said in an Oct. 23 phone interview. “They consumed it and they thought they were having heart attacks.”
On Oct. 10, the village board adopted such an ordinance. Now, it is unlawful to have, buy, sell or trade any plant classified botanically as salvia divinorum, a.k.a. synthetic cannabis, which has a variety of street names such as K2, moon rocks or spice.
Balog said although K2 looks like marijuana, it is actually intended for use as incense.
“Some of this stuff is made with very caustic chemicals,” he said. “It says right on the package, ‘Not made for human consumption,’ but they’re using it.”
Who? People with substance abuse problems, said Balog, those who perhaps might be attracted to the fact that it does not come up on standard drug tests.
But will an ordinance stick? Balog said there are ways chemists are trying to buck the state and federal laws on synthetic marijuana.
He said there are about 15 different manufacturers, and they “are constantly changing the formula” to stay ahead of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and federal regulations.
“They can change a molecule and, OK, now it doesn’t meet the element that’s in the state statutes,” said Balog.
Synthetic marijuana may look like the real thing, but “it’s about 100 times worse,” he said.
According to Balog, there are various side effects that can be experienced when using synthetic marijuana, depending on the chemical compound of the particular substance that is ingested.
Some of the more serious effects include seizures, hallucinations, vomiting, headaches and — as in the case with the two 12-year-olds — increased heart rates.
“It’s also been compared to the side effects from (ingesting) bath salts as well,” said Balog. “These things are laced with so many different chemical compounds.”
Bath salts are a designer drug that are packaged to look like common bathing salts, such as epsom salt.
However, when bath salts are consumed they have a similar affect as amphetamines.
The ordinance in Genoa City allows local police to issue citations for synthetic marijuana use, possession, sale or distribution.
Balog said it was tailored after those adopted in other communities, including Oak Creek.
He said, unlike marijuana violations, police are not required to have the substance tested because this is a municipal ordinance. With a local ordinance on the books, fines levied through violations — $676 — will go directly to the village. Also, the ordinance prevents businesses from selling the substance in the village.
Is synthetic marijuana use a growing problem in Genoa City?
“We’ve probably had five or six arrests,” Balog said.
He added that police have been citing people with possession of drug paraphernalia if they’re using synthetic marijuana through a smoking device.
But the main intent of the ordinance, Balog said, is to protect people. Synthetic marijuana use “is a health issue.”
“I don’t want any other kids trying it. … The bottom line is I don’t want to see a drug fatality,” he said.
On Oct. 10, the village board also adopted two other ordinances.
n Loitering for the purpose of engaging in unlawful drug activities is now prohibited. Balog said this ordinance is similar to that of the city of Beloit’s, “because it was such a huge problem there.”
Why? “A lot of time and energy goes into these drug investigations” and with an ordinance on the books, the village can recapture some of the costs that goes into enforcement. Balog said a fine hasn’t been set yet, but he is asking for a fine of between $1,000 to $1,200 “to hit the pocketbook and discourage” drug activities.
n Winter parking regulations have been altered. Now, from Dec. 1 to April 1, people cannot park on village streets so that the road surface is clear for village employees to remove snow.
This used to take effect from Nov. 1 to April 1, but “one of the biggest complaints would be, like on Nov. 3, someone will come in here with a parking ticket” to complain, said Balog. He added the amended ordinance was an attempt to “give village residents a break.”
However, Balog said there is a village snow emergency ordinance in effect which states if there is more than 2 inches of snow, vehicles must be removed from village streets. This means people still may have to keep their cars off the streets “if the weather cycle changes and we start getting hammered with snow in the beginning of November,” Balog said.
He urged people to pay attention to weather forecasts.