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Village snuffs out synthetic marijuana

Shorewood follows lead of other communities

Nov. 17, 2010

Shorewood — The village is the latest community to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana.

Following passage of an ordinance by the Village Board Monday, the prohibition took effect Wednesday.

When inhaled, synthetic marijuana, commonly known by such brand names as K2 and Spice, offers similar effects to real marijuana but is not detected in most drug tests. Although it is legal, the product has caused controversy because its long-term effects are not known.

Wisconsin legislators have proposed banning the substance statewide, though it remains uncertain when the issue will be taken up.

In Shorewood, one known retailer has been selling the substance - containing a mix of herbs and chemicals and marked as incense. David Kelly, owner of the Atomic Glass shop on Milwaukee's east side, opened a second store in Shorewood in late October.

Retailer defends product

Kelly implored officials to delay action since a ban would essentially force him to close his Shorewood store immediately and lay off some of his staff. He also rebuffed the notion synthetic marijuana may be harmful.

"I've got a very vocal group of customers … and not once have I heard a negative comment," Kelly said. "I'm much more worried about someone drinking and getting behind the wheel."

While Kelly supported prohibiting the sale of synthetic marijuana to minors, he advocated for a "Libertarian style of government, where adults should be able to make adult decisions."

Ban gains support

But the board had a different perspective. The seven-member elected body agreed unanimously to the ban, though three of the seven trustees suggested imposing the effective date in two weeks.

"When we imposed the smoking ban, we gave businesses a year-and-a-half since it was going to be a big adjustment," Trustee Ellen Eckman said. "Maybe we could give (Kelly) some time."

But Trustee Margaret Hickey thought the ban should go into effect imminently.

"If we think it's a bad idea, it's a bad idea to sell a product in Shorewood," Hickey said. "I don't mean to sound callous, but to me that's not a factor. The fact (synthetic marijuana) is trying to mimic a controlled substance is where I have a concern."

Trustee Dawn Anderson said she favored moving forward with the ban because of the unknowns.

"It's a synthetic chemical that we don't know anything about," she said. "I think we need to take a precautionary approach. Frankly, this scares me more than regular, organic marijuana."

Village Attorney Ray Pollen, who drafted the ordinance, said he did so after reviewing ordinances in other communities throughout the state. Police Chief Dave Banaszynski also offered input throughout the drafting stage.

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