Miami-Dade commissioners gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to a new law outlawing the sale and purchase of synthetic marijuana, an incense-like product that is legal to sell to minors.
State and federal authorities have banned chemical compounds found in similar products, but manufacturers have worked around the ban by developing new chemical configurations — mimicking marijuana resin — that are not prohibited.
Commissioners voted 10-0 to move the measure forward, without discussion. Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Barbara Jordan, and Xavier Suarez were absent for the vote. The proposal now must be vetted by a committee of commissioners before returning to the full board for a final vote.
The ordinance banning “synthetic cannabinoid herbal incense” was put forth by Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, a former police officer. Last month, at his request, investigators from the county’s narcotics squad and crime laboratory urged commissioners to prohibit sales of any products that imitate marijuana.
The products are generally purchased by teens or young adults, police said, and are often packaged as incense and sold at gas stations, convenience stores, and tattoo parlors. Generally sold by the gram, it can cost from $20 to $40 per packet.
Police said they became aware of the substance after Homestead Hospital officials contacted Miami-Dade police about a rash of emergency-room visits.
The products can be 200 to 800 times more potent than marijuana, and often result in hallucinations or the shutting down of vital organs. The products start as a liquid that chemists turn into a powder, then spray onto items, like incense. Most county commissioners were caught by surprise during the recent presentation, admitting they had never heard of the product, and urged Martinez to get an ordinance back to them as soon as possible.
“I didn’t know about these things,” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said.
Cities in Miami-Dade and Broward, including Sweetwater and Sunrise, have approved or considered banning the sale and purchase of all fake-pot products, whether the chemical compounds in them are banned or not.
Under the county measure, a person could face up to 60 days in jail or a fine of $500, or both, for selling or buying synthetic marijuana.