Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law last week that bans synthetic marijuana in New Jersey. Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16) was a driving force behind the bill. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the use of synthetic marijuana — also known as K2 and Spice — is harmful to people’s health and should be outlawed. He is also behind a measure that would require utility companies proposing a rate increase to hold public hearings in the affected service area. He was unhappy with Jersey Central Power & Light’s performance following Hurricane Sandy and the company is now proposing a 4.5 percent rate hike.
Bateman became involved in the synthetic marijuana ban when local police brought the problem to his attention when he was acting as a prosecutor for some New Jersey towns. “A couple years ago some local police came to me and said, ‘Kip, this is a real problem because these things are being sold legally and they’re really being used for illegal purposes,'” he said. “It’s really a chemical compound — synthetic marijuana — that individuals, young adults, teenagers, end up smoking.”
After ingestion, individuals can exhibit psychotic behavior. Bateman said there have been “crazy stories of individuals after they ingested the drug, killed their dog, ate their dog, really bad stuff.”
The problem with synthetic marijuana is seemingly on the rise. According to Bateman, there were 3,000 calls to poison control centers throughout the country in 2010 and the number increased to 7,000 in 2011. New Jersey had 150 calls in 2011, Bateman said.
“So Sen. [Shirley] Turner and I got together, put this legislation through the Senate, which makes it a crime to manufacture, distribute, possess or obtain synthetic marijuana,” Bateman said.
The new law makes the crime first to fourth degree depending on the substance and its amount. The goal is to get the products off the streets. “The problem is they’re being sold at convenience stores, smoke shops, drug paraphernalia stores, 7-Elevens,” Bateman said. “We want to get them off the market because they do have a disclaimer ‘not for human consumption’ but people use it obviously to get high and whatnot.”
According to Bateman, those under age 18 who are charged will be dealt with in juvenile court. If the amount is under 50 grams, he said adults will be seen in municipal court. Otherwise they will be sent to superior court. He said the crackdown will be on users, but also the stores that sell the products. He said he believes store owners know what they’re selling.
“It’s significant legislation because it’s going to save people’s lives,” Bateman said of the ban. “You don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have on your body and a lot of people have overdosed and a lot of people have done crazy things on this drug.”
Another bill Bateman is working on would require utility companies to hold public hearings in service areas where rate increases are proposed. He was not happy with JCP&L’s performance following Hurricane Sandy, which is requesting a 4.5 percent rate hike. He added that customers in his district served by JCP&L have lost power 10 to 12 times recently and believes they should be able to be heard at a public hearing before an increase goes into effect. JCP&L has six public hearings scheduled on the increase in Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties, but none in Bateman’s district.
Bateman said it would be very difficult for JCP&L to justify a rate increase. “They’re going to have to make a strong case. I don’t think now’s the time,” he said. “There’s been a series of storms and a series of shortages and power outages. I think right now is not the time for a rate increase.”