A girl, appearing to be in her late teens, walks into a New Baltimore gas station recently, asks for her favorite brand of "incense" prominently displayed on the counter and hands over cash in a matter of seconds.
It's a scene that's taking place across metro Detroit and, many say, it's more sinister than it seems.
That's because the so-called potpourri or incense, available in different scents like vanilla or apple and can retail around $7, is actually Spice or K2, also referred to a synthetic form of marijuana.
In light of criticism across the state about the potentially deadly drug, Macomb County is scheduled to take a stand against K2 Monday. County Executive Mark Hackel, along with Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, Macomb County Health and Human Services Director Steven Gold and state representatives, announced late Sunday night that they will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. in Macomb Township.
"Macomb County will issue K2 health violations and will recruit the public to report violators," according to the news release. "Macomb County will not wait for state law to be created. Violations of the health hazard will be issued to retailers selling K2 or similar products beginning this week."
Law enforcement grapples with Spice
Without legislation in tact to pave way for regulation, local police say they've been unable to crack down on an emerging drug problem--although they are well aware of it.
"It's tougher to get a handle on this. We definitely don't want our kids exposed to it, but our hands are tied right now," said Chesterfield Township Detective Sgt. Deron Myers, pointing out "at this point, there's nothing to enforce."
Myers said he's seen it at gas stations throughout the community while on and off duty and is concerned about young people smoking the product.
"There's obviously nothing good that's going to come with it," he said of Spice. "They don't even mark it for human consumption--that should tell you something right there."
New Baltimore K-9 Unit leader Officer Tim Lindstrom regularly patrols the city for illegal narcotic activity.
But Spice has been a particular obstacle because ingredients that may come under scrutiny in the product are often swapped for other components that resurface in different packaging and names. That allows the manufacturer, believed to be overseas, to stay one step ahead of regulation, Lindstrom said.
Like so-called bath salt packages that are actually designer drugs concocted by street chemists, Spice is not labeled or retailed as a drug to the public.
Violent behavior, even death highlight drug hazards
In addition to the unknown hazards of using Spice, Lindstrom says the risks can be psychologically altering or even fatal.
"People are dying from it," he said. "They become extremely violent with it."
In one recent encounter with someone on Spice, officers had to deploy their Taser because the suspect became aggressive, he said.
Krystal Armstrong, chemical dependency unit program manager at Harbor Oaks Hospital in New Baltimore, , especially because no one knows for sure what's really in it.
"People who have been using spice typically mirror almost the same or identical symptoms of someone who is currently in psychosis. This means mostly hallucinations, paranoia, delusional, and etc. This is why it is difficult to decipher whether a person who presents with these symptoms are drug-induced or maybe the person is having his or her first psychotic break," according to Armstrong.
A string of recent incidents highlight the hazards of K2.
- In Bloomfield Township, police say 18-year-old Oliver Smith overdosed on the synthetic cannibis late last month.
- Attorneys for West Bloomfield's Sandra Layne say her 17-year-old grandson Jonathan Hoffman may have been under the influence of K2 when.
- On May 18, smoking K2/Spice and a mixture of other drugs earlier that day.
- The drug may also have been in the system of Tucker Cipriano when the 19-year-old Farmington Hills resident and friend Mitchell Young, 20, , killing his father Bob Cipriano.
Spice opponents are pushing for a ban
Meanwhile critics of K2 are hoping to have it banned. Throughout the state, examples of this initiative are taking place:
- On Wednesday, Michigan state in the state. Darany’s proposal comes after many local communities have rallied against Spice.
- Facebook groups have been formed in , protests have been held in , and parents have teamed up in .
- One of Smith's friends started an .
- On Friday, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Sheriff Michael Bouchard held a news conference to speak of a countywide initiative to help curb the distribution and use Spice and other synthetic designer drugs in the county.
- in its locations.
- During a , the Shelby Township supervisor announced an ordinance that will be introduced to curb the sale of synthetic marijuana.
In an unscientific 91 percent or 361 voted in favor of banning Spice by Friday evening.
Despite being called synthetic marijuana, K2 is nothing like pot
Medical marijuana advocate Rick Thompson, who also blogs for New Baltimore-Chesterfield Patch, said K2 is nothing like marijuana because it does not have any medicinal benefits and it creates a high unlike regular pot.
"The connection between the two substances is a construct of the media machine," Thompson said. "K2 or Spice is just the latest drug to catch a wave of popularity, just like ecstasy and cocaine did when they were first introduced to communities.
"The difference here is that legitimate retailers are acting in a legal limbo, with no clear orders from the government and the rewards of a free market leading them. It is notable that adults, who have access to alcohol and medicinal marijuana, are not caught up in the bath salts and K2 craze. Its popularity is predicated on its easy availability. It must be stopped before innocent lives are lost again," he said.
For coverage of the press conference, check back with Patch.