CITY HALL — The city is moving to close an enforcement loophole on the sale and distribution of synthetic marijuana.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed an ordinance amendment this week that would ban not just the sale of synthetic pot and other synthetic stimulants, but also their possession or concealment in city businesses.
"It's not a growing problem," said Mika Stambaugh, spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "It was just a way to clean up the code."
According to Stambaugh, it's all about enforcement. "If we find these products in stores, the store owner can argue that they weren't for sale," she said. "And our investigators have to prove they witnessed an actual sale in order to write up a violation."
By making it a crime to possess or conceal it on the premises, Stambaugh added, the law becomes more clear-cut. "It's possession," she said. "If they're there, you're in trouble.
"Additionally, sometimes the products are offered for sale, but stored or kept outside of public view," she added. "We want to be able to write tickets if they have possession of these products even if they are concealed from the public view."
The city banned synthetic marijuana, marketed under brand names like Spice and K2, in late 2011.
Ali Nagib, assistant director of the Illinois Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he sees it as an ancillary issue and doesn't believe it reflects a shift in the growing trend toward marijuana decriminalization and legalization.
"I certainly don't think it's a good sign," Nagib said. "But I don't necessarily see it as a bad thing.
"This is a market that shouldn't really exist," he added. That synthetic marijuana is used at all is because "the real thing is illegal," he said.
Nagib tends to concentrate on more direct connections, such as restrictions on head shops. Even there, he added, he wasn't disconcerted by the new requirements passed by the City Council this week on head shops forcing them to report what percentage of their merchandise of their shelf space is devoted to smoking supplies.
"It was really talking about reporting and data collection," Nagib said. "On the surface, it seemed OK. We'll see how it gets implemented."
Nagib pointed to the way the city's marijuana decriminalization ordinance has been implemented, with ticketing for the most part not replacing arrests, especially in certain neighborhoods of the city.
He said he was cheered by the interest some aldermen have shown in outright legalization, but added, "it's really more of a state-level issue." He said NORML hopes to pass a decriminalization law through the General Assembly before the end of the year.
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