VALPARAISO | An ordinance to ban the sale and use of a synthetic form of marijuana won initial approval Tuesday without comment by the Porter County Board of Commissioners.
A final vote on the ordinance is set for the commissioners' next meeting Sept. 21.
The ordinance targets products that are legally available for sale at some local convenience stores and smoke shops. Typically labeled herbal incense, the products are a mix of herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound similar to THC, the active chemical in marijuana.
Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel requested a local ordinance outlawing the sale and use of the products, called synthetic cannabinoids.
The products go by a variety of names, including Mr. Smiley, Gonjah, Black Mamba, Warlock, K2, Proze Smoke and P.E.P. Pourri.
Gensel told the commissioners state legislators are "working feverishly" to close a loophole in the state's criminal statutes that allows for the products' sale. State law prohibits substances that are derivatives of THC, but because these products are made from a synthetic chemical they are not covered.
The local ordinance would fill the gap until state lawmakers can act, Gensel said. Several Indiana counties already have passed ordinances, including Boone, Noble and Vigo.
Porter County Attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger said individuals or businesses caught violating the ordinance would be subject to fines of up to $2,500. The county also could seek an injunction prohibiting any businesses from continuing to sell the product. The commissioners do not have the authority to impose stiffer penalties such as jail time, Rinkenberger said.
Also at the meeting, Commissioner Bob Harper read a prepared statement calling on the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority and the Regional Development Authority to explain how they intend to finance the operations of various bus lines in Northwest Indiana, including Valparaiso's ChicaGo Dash and V-Line.
The RBA is in talks to take over management of Valparaiso's bus services. The bus authority recently took over the operations of the buses in Hammond and is in discussions with Gary and East Chicago to take over their bus lines as well.
"The RBA has no stream of income," Harper said. "They have been encouraged by the RDA to take over all these bus lines, and as far as I know, the RDA has not committed to keep these bus lines running in the future.
"The bottom line is if the RBA takes over these two lines in Valparaiso, in addition to the other lines they are taking over in Lake County, within the next few months either the RDA is going to be looking for additional taxes to keep these bus lines going or the RBA is going to be looking for additional taxes."