Bay legalizes ‘herbal incense’
By J.R. Welsh
FROM The Seacoast Echo - Aug 20, 2010, 17:09
Bay St. Louis remained one of the few places in South Mississippi this week to allow sales of "herbal incense," or synthetic marijuana, after the city council decided to ignore recommendations from the mayor and police chief that the substance be outlawed.
The decision came Tuesday, after laborious debate and confusion over what the council was even voting on. But in the end, Councilman Joey Boudin won a 5-2 vote to allow continued sales of Spice, Bay Breeze, and other synthetic drugs to anyone 21 or older.
The new law takes effect 30 days from its passage, and will be reexamined then. After that, merchants caught selling the substances to minors can be fined from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense, with no jail time required.
Only Councilmen Bobby Compretta and Ray Kidd held a hard line and voted against Boudin's motion for continued sales. The motion was seconded by Jeff Reed and also received yea votes from Doug Seal, Bill Taylor, and Wendy McDonald.
Boudin maintained that the state, not the city council, should be prohibiting sales of phony marijuana that gets users high, but does not contain the key illegal ingredient THC. He said many substances, including common paint, can be used as intoxicants.
"What are we going to do, take paint off the shelves? Where are we going to stop?" Boudin said.
Proponents of the ban said the substances have already been outlawed by many Coast cities, including Waveland, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, and others. The State of Louisiana, the military, and many foreign nations have also outlawed them, and police are already making arrests for sale and possession of synthetic marijuana in Gulfport, Biloxi, and other areas.
Compretta and Kidd said the Bay should have followed suit. "I think we have a responsibility to protect our children," Compretta said.
Mayor Les Fillingame had supported the move to ban the substances, and city attorney Donald Rafferty wrote an ordinance outlawing sales and possession. In addition, Deputy Police Chief Mike De Nardo told the council that health officials have reported teen-agers becoming ill after using false marijuana.
"One kid affected by it is too much. Somebody's going to die from this stuff," De Nardo said.
In the beginning, Seal had harsh words for merchants who sell fake marijuana and claim the substance is sold only for use as an incense.
"That's a crock of B.S.," Seal said. But in the end, he supported Boudin's motion, agreeing the state, not individual cities, should pass a law against selling the substances.
At one point during the Tuesday meeting, Taylor pledged opposition to the sale of fake pot. "I'm for totally banning it," he said. Then, less than 10 minutes later, he also voted for Boudin's pro-sales motion.
Fillingame was visibly upset following the vote. "It's still going to be perfectly legal, and there's going to be a lot of it sold in Bay St. Louis," he said.
He asked the council to at least pass a resolution asking the state to outlaw the substances. That request was ignored by council members.
Fillingame was also critical of merchants who sell phony marijuana. He responded to a presentation by Julius Landry – owner of Bay Tobacco and Beer – who hired a lawyer and a lobbyist to fight the proposed total ban.
"While I respect Mr. Landry's right to make money, at what price to our community is he going to be making that money?" the mayor said.
Landry praised the council for voting in his favor. "I want to thank the council for not jumping on the bandwagon and rushing to judgment," he said Thursday. "I appreciate them siding on Americans' right to choose."
Reed, who represents the Third Ward, also said it's not the job of city government to prohibit sales of substances that have not been officially proven dangerous. "It's the parents' responsibility to protect their kids," he said.