JACKSON – People arrested for having Spice will face the same charges as for possessing marijuana under legislation passed during Friday’s special session of the Mississippi Legislature.
Various local governments, including Tupelo and many others in Northeast Mississippi, already have passed ordinances making possession of Spice, a synthetic marijuana, a misdemeanor. Gov. Haley Barbour added the issue to the agenda for Friday’s special session, which originally was called to deal with an economic development project, at the behest of law enforcement agencies, including Attorney General Jim Hood.
Under the legislation, a person possessing less than 30 grams, a little more than an ounce, would be charged with a misdemeanor. A person possessing more than 30 ounces would face a felony charge.
The legislation will take effect as soon as its signed into law by the governor. But retailers have until Oct. 1 to return the product to the manufacturer or to legally dispose of it. It will be illegal for them to sell it to customers.
Spice, also known as K2, is most often sold in convenience stores as an incense, but has become popular among many youth as a substitute for marijuana.
At first both chambers of the Legislature passed bills making the charge for possession of the synthetic marijuana just like possession of heroin, LSD or other Schedule 1 drugs. That could make possession of an amount less than one-tenth of a gram a felony – punishable by one to two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
But the House reversed course and made the punishment equivalent to that for marijuana. The Senate followed suit.
“We hope nobody possesses this,” said House Judiciary A Chair Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, who led the effort to make the penalty the same as for marijuana. “But it appears that the people using this are kids. We just don’t want them to face a stiffer penalty for possessing this than for possessing marijuana.”
Possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of $250 or less. The fine is more if the marijuana is found in a car, though, still a misdemeanor. For more than 30 grams, the fine is $1,000 or less and incarceration of one to three years. For more than 250 grams, the penalty is two to eight years in prison and a fine of not more than $50,000. There are stiffer penalties for larger amounts.
Hood said the drug is different than marijuana even though it provides a marijuana-like intoxication.
“The difference is marijuana is a plant. This is a synthetic drug,” Hood said. “If you take marijuana, you know what is in it unless it is sprayed with something.
“But this is something that is mixed up. Any hippie with a bathtub can mix this up. You don’t know what you are getting. … You could put something in it that could kill a child.”
Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagula, said use of the drug is reported to have caused vomiting and other illnesses.
“This is a very dangerous drug,” he said.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal