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Governor Whitmer signs bipartisan bills to address nitrous oxide abuse

National Institutes of Health

On Tuesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a pair of bills meant to address nitrous oxide abuse. The two bills make it a misdemeanor to sell, or try to sell, devices used to help inhale nitrous oxide from canisters.

Selling such a device could carry jail sentence of up to 90 days and a $5,000 fine. Sales to minors can be punished with a potential year-long sentence as well as a $7,500 fine.

Supporters of the legislation said nitrous oxide has many legitimate uses, notably in the culinary and dentistry fields. However, the chemical compound, often referred to as “laughing gas,” can be inhaled for a brief high. Chronic abuse of nitrous oxide carries a risk of neurological damage.

The bills ban “crackers” which are devices used to puncture the canisters (often referred to as whippets). The canisters, as well as nitrous oxide itself, are not banned.

“The cracker is paraphernalia that releases nitrous oxide from the container into a balloon. Then people inhale the nitrous oxide from the balloon so that they don't experience the cold sensation on their lips from the cracker,” said Natalie Price, a Democratic state representative.

“The bills do not punish use or possession of nitrous oxide. They instead target the commercial sale of the paraphernalia to try to curb this problem in our communities.”

Efforts for this legislation have been in the works for years, but received new attention after an industrial explosion and subsequent fire in Clinton Township in early March. The building that exploded reportedly had lighter fluid, butane, and nitrous oxide inside prior to the explosion.

Price said the bill wasn’t sparked by that incident. “These bills have been in the process of going through legislation for years. We had the committee test them many weeks ago,” she said.

Price said the explosion was “symbolic of the hidden dangers of nitrous oxide abuse within our community.”

A.J. Jones is a newsroom intern and graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Sources say he owns a dog named Taffy.
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