MARSHALL CO. — An increase in the popularity of synthetic marijuana has contributed to Marshall County spending more to test evidence picked up in drug arrests.
Prosecutor David Holmes told county commissioners Tuesday that 547 drug cases came through the county system in 2012. Evidence including drugs and paraphernalia in 182 cases were submitted to Great Lakes Laboratory in Valparaiso for testing.
County commissioners recently received what they called “a sticker shock” when they saw the 2013 contract with Great Lakes Laboratory. The price to test evidence was about double what the county had been paying — from $42,240 to $84,000 per year.
“I appreciate the expense that’s involved, but one of the things that’s really upped the number of cases is…synthetic marijuana,” said Holmes to commissioners. “With synthetic drugs, it’s difficult for us to even charge somebody without knowing what’s there. I’d say there are times the defendant doesn’t even know what they have…there’s a lot of bizarre stuff out there.”
Sheriff Tom Chamberlin added that his department does not have any way to field test synthetic marijuana.
According to a report from Great Lakes Laboratory, just 33 Marshall County drug cases were tested in 2010. That number jumped to 182 in 2012. This is the reason for the price increase, said Great Lakes representative Michelle Volk.
“Historically, Marshall County has always submitted between 35-50 cases (a year),” said Volk. “Since David Holmes took office as prosecutor, there’s been a increase. But it’s not just Marshall County. There have been increases in other counties too. Drugs aren’t going anywhere.”
Volk said that the average price to test a drug case is $400. That includes an average of five or six items in each case.
Holmes said that he had researched other lab options for the county, but they were all a great distance away.
“I have not seen any question about Great Lakes’ credibility,” added Holmes. “Our experience with them is that the credibility is there.”
Commissioner Kevin Overmyer commented, “Now I understand that we’ve increased your work.”
He referenced the county’s long-standing relationship with Great Lakes and noted that the company has not raised their rates for years.
Volk noted that in the 2013 contract between Great Lakes and Marshall County, there is a limit of 175 cases for the $84,000.
“Marshall County has never had a limit before, since the numbers were predictably low,” said Volk. “Every other county has had a limit.”
After further discussion, commissioners agreed to a new two-year contract with Great Lakes Laboratory (for 2013-14) at $84,000 per year.