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Mistake Takes Teeth Out Of New Michigan Drug Ban

Possessing drugs such as synthetic marijuana and an Ecstasy-like substance called BZP won't result in jail time or fines, at least temporarily, because of a recent mistake in Michigan law.
Possession and use of the drugs was made illegal with a state law that took effect in October. But the criminal penalties for offenders were inadvertently stripped from state law this month when the Legislature passed and Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a separate bill related to drug sentences.
Republican Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, an incoming state senator, said Wednesday he will introduce a bill to fix the law and restore the penalties when the new Legislature convenes in January.
The problem arose because the drug sentencing bill, signed into law by Granholm last week, wasn't updated to include criminal penalties for synthetic marijuana and BZP offenses. Penalties were included in earlier legislation, and it was not clear Wednesday how the mix-up with the bill passed by the Legislature in early December happened.
Granholm decided to sign the latest bill because of its overall changes in sentencing policies. But she alerted lawmakers to the oversight related to synthetic marijuana and BZP and urged the new Legislature ``to fix this error and restore the criminal penalties for possession and use of these dangerous and illegal substances.''
Jones, who sponsored one of the original bills banning the drugs, said he is upset that Granholm signed the latest legislation even though she knew it would repeal the criminal penalties for possession of synthetic marijuana and BZP. He's also unhappy that the error was not caught before the Legislature passed the sentencing bill during a busy and lengthy lame-duck session in early December.
Marathon sessions featuring hastily approved bills as lawmakers rush to adjourn for the year ``always produce bad law,'' he said.
The earlier legislation called for up to one year in jail and fines of up to $2,000 for misdemeanors. Penalties in cases involving felonies would be more severe.
There are differing opinions as to whether possession and use of the drugs is now technically legal or illegal. Either way, the lack of penalties could leave law enforcement agents in a quandary until the law is fixed.
An initial interpretation by Michigan State Police indicates people could still be arrested for possession and drugs could still be seized. But with no punishment on the books, police likely would have to consult with prosecutors before determining how to proceed.
The affected drugs include synthetic cannabinoids that go by names including K-2. It's been described as synthetic marijuana but some lawmakers say it has stronger, more serious effects on users.
BZP is stimulant sometimes marketed as Ecstasy. The drug sometimes is sold in cartoon shapes so it looks like candy or children's vitamins.
   (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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