Monday, May 20, 2013
Synthetic Marijuana: Winning The Battle But Losing The War?
Spice is banned throughout the state and country, but head shops have already exploited loopholes
SOLDOTNA—Synthetic marijuana may be illegal, but it's not gone.
Spice, or K2 (or spike or magic silver), was banned from the streets by the federal government, the Alaska State Legislature and even the Anchorage Assembly.
But now it appears smoke shops have found a way around the law.
Last year, lawmakers across the nation and in Alaska waged war against synthetic marijuana.
“It is a synthetic drug made in a test tube, if you will, applied to a plant material to mimic and even marketed as synthetic cannabinoids,” said Orin Dym, forensic laboratory manager for the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. “Fake marijuana. What it is is a designer drug that has been applied to a plant material so it can be smoked and taken into the body.”
But the battle against the designer drug is far from over.
Unlike the drug it's supposed to mimic, synthetic marijuana can cause erratic behavior and dangerously high blood pressure.
Hundreds across the country and in Anchorage have been hospitalized because of it. The state law against it went into effect less than two months ago.
But now, it's popping up again.
One smoke shop in Soldotna even advertises that the drug is available.
A member of the CBS 11’s Eye Team went in with a hidden camera in to see how a drug that was banned could be advertised and sold.
Here’s how the conversation went:
Eye Team: “I thought you couldn’t sell spice, but obviously…”
Clerk: “What they do is they outlaw ingredients. So they just make new stuff with new ingredients.”
Eye Team: “This is like weed, basically, right?”
Clerk: “It's an alternative.”
Spice isn't just being sold on the Kenai Peninsula, however. The Eye Team found it in Anchorage, too.
Sticker labels say the packets do not contain specific chemical compounds that were outlawed.
“We're dealing with a material that is easily manipulated and varied,” said Dym.
When lawmakers wrote the laws banning synthetic marijuana, they knew they could be fighting a losing battle.
“The bill itself that we passed, we tried to make as broad and inclusive as possible to capture all these harmful chemicals,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.
But it apparently was not broad enough because manufacturers simply changed the formula.
“Everybody is just trying to get caught up with the old product,” Meyer said. “Now, there is a new product out. It is a slippery slope. It is just hard to keep up. Obviously the package says it doesn’t contain the things we outlawed in our bill. Until we can see for sure what is in this synthetic cannabinoids, and what has been removed and what hasn’t, I don’t think we want to do another bill just yet.”
State lawmakers may not have to.
Scientists with the state crime lab has been in contact with other labs across the country that have found the stickers may just be another clever marketing tool.
“What they are finding is what a package is labeled, and what they find when they analyze aren’t necessarily the same things,” Dym said.
Labs are finding the illegal compounds are still there.
But without extensive testing here, it is impossible to tell whether the outlawed ingredients are still being sold in Alaska.
Law enforcement officials said they are busy tackling a resurgence of methamphetamines and ecstasy in Anchorage, which is what's keeping them from going into smoke shops to check for synthetic marijuana compliance.
As for any new legislation against synthetic marijuana, Meyer said he would have the crime lab analyze the new packets when lawmakers head back to Juneau to see if the ingredients are still dangerous.