Sunrise has become the first city in Broward — and the second in the state — to ban the herbal incense meant to give those who smoke it a high.
Synthetic marijuana, known on the street as “Spice,” “Mr. Nice Guy” and other colorful names, is sending some people who smoke it to the hospital — or the morgue, experts say. Side effects include rapid heart rate, anxiety, nausea, seizures, hallucinations, renal failure and, in extreme cases, death.
Sunrise commissioners gave unanimous approval to the ban Tuesday night.
Others may be close behind, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Coral Springs, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Lauderhill, Margate, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach and Tamarac.
Deerfield Beach is expected to give final approval to a ban June 19. Pompano Beach officials gave initial approval to a ban on Tuesday; Davie and Tamarac officials plan to vote on a similar ban in July.
Synthetic marijuana also has caught the attention of city officials in Palm Beach County, but so far there is no plan to ban the product city by city, said Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the Palm Beach County League of Cities.
“We’re all monitoring it,” Radcliffe said. “It’s on the radar. Rather than doing legislation every three weeks, we’re looking to see what Tallahassee and the feds are doing. The burner is getting turned up on this. But it’s important to do something comprehensive that you don’t have to change.”
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan spoke of the need for federal and state legislation to tackle the issue.
“We can’t do this by municipality alone,” he said. “In years past we had children who sniffed glue or sniffed paint. But we’ve never faced something as dangerous as this, where an entire industry is marketing this as safe and benign. This is called synthetic pot by the people marketing it because no one would buy it if it was called synthetic meth or synthetic cocaine or synthetic poison.”
Gas stations and convenience stores started pulling packets from shelves two weeks ago when Sunrise commissioners gave initial approval to a ban on all incense that’s not on a stick, in an effort to outlaw fake weed.
In May, Sweetwater became the first city in Florida to pass a similar ban on synthetic marijuana.
“I know of one kid that has gone to the hospital,” Davie Councilman Marlon Luis said. “Some of the other cities are going to ban it. I don’t want them selling it in Davie when the other cities aren’t allowing it.”
Until the state steps in, the cities have no choice but to take action, Tamarac Mayor Beth Flansbaum-Talabisco said. “We have to do something because it’s the right thing to do.”
At least nine states, including Florida, have tried to outlaw the chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana. Florida law bans herbal incense, but only if it is for human consumption.
Manufacturers have skirted state and federal laws banning the chemicals by changing the compounds and labeling the packets as herbal incense “not for human consumption.”
Sweetwater says it became the first city in the nation to outlaw synthetic marijuana when it banned the sale of loose leaf or granular incense on May 21.
Anyone caught selling loose leaf or granular incense in Sweetwater will be fined $500 per day and/or face up to 60 days in jail.
In Sunrise, violators would be issued a code violation and have to appear before a special magistrate.
Sunrise also plans to make it illegal to manufacture fake pot and to sell bath salts — the synthetic drug police officials suspect that Rudy Eugene, the man dubbed the Causeway Cannibal, may have taken before attacking a homeless man in Miami.
In Sunrise, the same gas stations and convenience stores selling fake pot are selling so-called bath salts, Ryan said.
The Sunrise ban would not outlaw the sale of legitimate bath salts, but would target the chemical concoction of bath salts meant to get people high, Ryan said. Those bath salts are sold in small quantities for up to $35 a packet.
“They call them bath salts, but they are not used in baths,” Ryan said. “It’s another dangerous cocktail of chemicals. They’re going to keep changing it and we’re going to keep up with them. We’re not giving up no matter how often they change the names or the chemicals.”