The town of Walkersville has joined a short but growing list of municipalities in Frederick County to ban the sale and use of synthetic marijuana known as “spice.”
Following a public hearing Wednesday night, the town burgess and five commissioners voted to ban spice, becoming the third county municipality to do so.
The town of Thurmont was the first to pass a ban on Oct. 23, followed by the city of Frederick on Nov. 1.
Under the new ordinance, which will take effect in 20 days, the sale, purchase, manufacture, distribution, transportation, trade or consumption of synthetic marijuana is banned. A violation is a criminal misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to $1,000, 30 days in jail or both.
The law is similar to the Frederick’s, although under Walkersville’s charter, a violation can only carry 30 days in jail instead of the 90 days imposed in the city.
In Thurmont, having spice carries a $250 fine but no jail time because it is a civil violation.
Walkersville Commissioner Chad Weddle, who proposed the new law, said officials know of no one in the town selling spice. But Weddle said he heard that businesses once selling the product in Frederick were looking to move into Walkersville.
“We’re talking about preventing those people from moving into [Walkersville],” he said.
There were at least six businesses in Frederick that were known to sell the substance before the city’s ban took effect.
Only two people spoke during the public hearing in Walkersville, a town of nearly 6,000 residents just outside of Frederick city.
George Rudy, a former resident of the town, said spice is a “hot topic” that should be addressed. Rudy said he has no clue what spice is made from but called it a public health issue that “should be banned totally.”
Synthetic marijuana is similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active compound found in marijuana but is much stronger than the real thing, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is sold as potpourri or incense not meant for human consumption but users smoke it like marijuana.
Weddle said he put a sunset provision in the law so it will expire on Jan. 2, 2014. He is hopeful that the Maryland General Assembly will pass a statewide bill during the 90-day session that begins on Jan. 9.
Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said Saturday at a community meeting held in the small town of Araby, where a former city spice dealer had already set up shop, that state lawmakers are drafting emergency legislation to ban synthetic drugs that could move quickly through the Maryland General Assembly and be signed into law by the governor by mid-February.
Such a measure would take effect immediately, rather than Oct. 1 when most legislation becomes state law.
Joe Cohen, the owner of Classic Cigars and British Goodies on North Market Street in downtown Frederick, was selling spice in Araby but was evicted by the store’s property owner, although it was unclear earlier this week whether he had closed down.
The commissioners have also included a proposed ban in their annual package of legislative requests to the General Assembly.
Sen. Ronald Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick said at a hearing held Saturday on the county’s legislative package that at least three members of the local delegation were working on a spice ban bill. He said lawmakers would probably introduce both a statewide bill and one that applies just to Frederick County in case the statewide measure dies.
Lawmakers ran into a problem during the last session with how to define the product in order to ban it because manufacturers can change the chemical compounds used to make it as quickly as the legislature can ban them.
But Frederick’s ordinance has a wider definition, banning any chemically synthesized drug that affects cannabinoid receptors rather than a list of specific compounds.
Staff Writer Ryan Marshall contributed to this story.