June 20, 2012 - Oxford Township officials last week considered enacting an emergency ordinance banning synthetic marijuana, but due to some uncertainty over legal procedure, they ultimately decided to show their support for state legislation prohibiting the substance.
By a 5-0 vote, the township board passed a resolution that "encourages" Gov. Rick Snyder to sign some bills on his desk that ban the substances known as K2 and Spice.
"My problem with waiting for the state is they're notorious (for) being slow," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "It wouldn't take much to have a hiccup there and it be sent back to committee."
"I would still feel a lot better if we showed our support for this by passing this West Bloomfield (ordinance)," he noted.
However, Dunn's concern proved to be unwarranted as Snyder signed the bills into law on Tuesday, June 19.
One of the bills allows any synthetic substance that mimics the effect of naturally-occurring marijuana to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making possession a two-year felony and use a misdemeanor. The new laws also make manufacturing or delivery of these substances a seven-year felony and selling them a four-year felony.
Township officials were originally considering adopting the same type of emergency ordinance banning synthetic marijuana as West Bloomfield Township recently did in the wake of a Bloomfield Township teenager who died over the Memorial Day weekend from an overdose of the substance.
West Bloomfield's emergency ordinance defined synthetic marijuana as "consisting of plant or other material treated with chemicals or other substances that have not been approved for human consumption" and "being marketed or sold as herbal incense," while "being used in the same manner and for the same purposes as marijuana."
Side effects of K2 and Spice include convulsions, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, unconsciousness, anxiety attacks, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting, disorientation and even death.
Despite West Bloomfield's passage of this emergency ban, there was some concern over whether Oxford could legally follow suit.
Oxford Township didn't have anything published in its newspaper of record, The Oxford Leader, prior to the board's discussion of this topic last week, so officials felt they could not just adopt an ordinance that night by simply deeming it an emergency.
"Per MTA (Michigan Townships Association), there's no jurisdiction to actually enforce an emergency ordinance," said Clerk Curtis Wright. "There's no process for it."
Normally, for a charter township to approve an ordinance, the board is legally required to conduct first and second readings of the language at two meetings. In between these readings, the charter township must publish what's being considered as a public notice in the municipality's newspaper of record.
"In order to pass an ordinance, you have to publish it before you can actually adopt it," Wright said. "An ordinance must be published before and after it is adopted."
Although it's not legally required, Curtis noted Oxford Township usually publishes a public notice prior to the first reading as a courtesy to residents.
However, a few days after the meeting, Wright was contacted by Jim Beelen, who's the member information liaison for the MTA.
Beelen e-mailed him an excerpt of the Charter Township Act (Act 359 of 1947), which apparently shows that emergency ordinances are allowed. "Except in the case of an ordinance that is declared to be an emergency ordinance, an ordinance shall not be finally passed by the township board at the same meeting at which it is introduced, or before it is published in the form in which it is introduced," according to the act.
"What constitutes an emergency and therefore an emergency ordinance would be determined by the township in consultation with the township's attorney," Beelen noted.
Although an emergency ordinance can be immediately adopted without prior notice, it does not immediately take effect.
"If the ordinance has a penalty associated with it, there would still be a 30 (day) period before it became effective," Beelen wrote.
Trustee Sue Bellairs expressed her concern that some of West Bloomfield's language was too wide in scope. For instance, it prohibits "a dangerous product," which is defined as "a consumable product or material containing a dangerous substance."
"Some of this is really broad," she said.
Bellairs noted she supports banning synthetic marijuana.
"I'm for that," she said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.