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County Council introduces bill to ban synthetic marijuana


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Published on: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By Jason Ruiter

The Prince George’s County Council introduced a law last Tuesday that would ban possession and distribution of synthetic marijuana products — such as “Spice” and “K2” — due to their hazardous nature.

“It (has) taken us at least six months if not more to come up with this legislation through doing the research,” said Council Chair Andrea Harrison, District 5, who had her staff contact the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Maryland State Police lab for information.

On the drug informational website Erowid, one contributor wrote that after smoking the Spice brand “Smiley Dog,” he lost complete motor control and began convulsing and sputtering words, thinking he was dying. He was not subdued until strapped in a hospital gurney and administered Geodon, a medication used to treat schizophrenia.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that the drug causes psychotic episodes and seizures. In 2012, there were 5,200 calls about exposures to synthetic marijuana, according to the AAPCC.

In the nine remaining states where distribution is still legal, including Maryland, Spice and K2 can be found for purchase in headshops, tobacco stores and sometimes bars. Many purchases are also made online.

Maryland is currently attempting to pass a similar law after failing last year that would label the chemicals used as a Schedule 1 drug, a label which means it is hazardous, has no medicinal uses and is illegal to possess and distribute.

President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act into law last July, also banning bath salts. Since sales are done in the state, however, states also need matching laws for the ban to be truly effective.

So far, 41 states have passed legislation banning synthetic cannibinoids, a chemically engineered substance that affects the same part of the brain that the active ingredients in marijuana do. Unlike marijuana, K2 is not an organically grown plant, but it is made by spraying the chemical on crushed herbs.

Even after state and federal enforcement, distributors can exploit a loophole that can keep their product legal.

“The challenge with this is that the chemist, whoever is making [K2 or Spice], can change one or two ingredients and then we’re back to the same thing,” Harrison said. “Then it’s a substance that’s not illegal.”

This trick of the trade also applies to both federal and state applications. The bill recently introduced into the Maryland legislative branch, like the county bill, enumerates more than 50 different combinations of chemicals.

Asked if the bill can be worded in a way that simply outlaws any chemical that affects the brain’s canniniboid receptors, Harrison said she is not sure. Chemical changes still have to be tested to discover that it’s illegal under the due process of law.

“When an individual wants to do something, they always find a way. Essentially, that’s kind of what we’re up against,” Harrison said. “We have to at least try and take a stab at it.”

The county bill will be discussed during the House, Education and Human Services committee meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

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