Chemists Find Their Way Around K2 Ban
COLUMBIA - Some local vendors are carrying a product that consumers say is a new way to get high. Authorities say the version of a synthetic marijuana, commonly known as K3, gets by the ban of K2 and produces similar effects.
MU Psychology professor Dennis Miller said chemists have been making man-made chemical compounds that act like marijuana for the past 30 years. He said a small chemical change to K2, makes new products like K3 legal.
"It's going to be tough for the federal government, for the drug enforcement agency to keep up with the synthetic cannabinoids. There's lots of them there and home chemists are starting to be able to make them just as they make meth and ecstasy," Miller said.
Products like K3 are made up of dried plant material that is sprayed with synthetic chemicals. When smoked, Miller said it produces effects like marijuana.
"A person would feel more relaxed, be a little tired, a little bit drowsy, less anxious..." Miller said.
MU student Andrew Johnson said he smokes a product like K3 called "Happy Fun Time" to wind down.
"It's probably [a] later on in the day kind of thing. Where I got nothing else to do so why not get some "Happy Fun Time" in," Johnson said.
Johnson said the feeling lasts about 30 minutes.
"It's just kind of relaxing. I don't really know besides really lazy. I don't want to do anything and everything kind of makes me happy," Johnson said.
Under Senate Bill 887 that passed in August 2010, MO banned the products commonly known as K2. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, chemists sprayed the products with chemicals like JWH-018 and JWH-073. The crime lab that the Columbia Police Department is working with found those same chemicals in products like K3, just repackaged. Additionally, they found the chemicals JWH-250 and JWH-081 in some of the new products.
"It may be sprayed with an analog of those cannabinoids and so that materials been altered a little bit so technically it's not illegal but it was really just a minute change, a way to try and get around the law," said Columbia Police Officer Jessie Haden.
Some of the products KOMU8 found were labeled 'Missouri Compliant' and 'Not for human consumption.' However, no ingredients were listed on the packaging. Columbia police said the products could contain chemicals that have not yet been tested as safe or could contain the already banned chemicals.
"What is on the label, isn't necessarily indicative of what's on the product and you're responsible for what's on that product if you have possession. And so we would urge people not to take the risk," Haden said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, possession of products like K2 in Missouri receive the same treatment as a marijuana possession. Possession of 35 grams or less of the banned synthetic marijuana is a class A misdemeanor and possession of more than 35 grams is a class C felony.
Columbia vendors are selling the product as incense. Employees at Eye Candy, where Johnson purchased "Happy Fun Time," said they do not sell the products if they believe someone is going to smoke it.
Bocomo Bay in Columbia sells their own brand of the incense and in many different scents. Employees said the product is good for their business.
"Business has definitely been better than it used to be because of this product," Bocomo Bay employee John Hawkins said. "We just reiterate that it's an aroma therapy and it can be used as that and that's what it's for. What people take out of here and do with it we just have no control over it, nobody has any control over anything. It's like buying a can of paint. Some people take it home and actually paint their walls with it, and other people take it home and sniff it."
"It's being sold as and publicly marketed as incense however the people selling it realize that the people are buying it to smoke it. They know that full well, but they know they're trying to lower their liability by marketing it as incense," Officer Haden said.
Hawkins said the battle of legalizing synthetic marijuana should send a message to lawmakers.
"We continue to make things illegal and people continue to develop new products to take its place. So maybe we need to legalize marijuana and let it go," Hawkins said.
The Columbia Police Department said it hasn't had many issues with K2 products and has not had any issues with K3 products thus far. Police said, however, they are researching the products for the safety of consumers.
"The synthetic cannabinoids, on the K2, aren't really all that complicated, but as you start to make derivatives or people try and make knock-offs or pretend substances and we don't know what those items are sprayed with, that really becomes a concern for us, for the safety of the community. How's it affecting people's health and how's it going to affect their behavior and how will it affect their driving?" Officer Haden said.
Synthetic marijuana smoker Andrew Johnson said products like K3 are less efficacious then those like K2. Still, he said, it has some side effects.
"I'll be really laid back and just lounging around and then occasionally I thought I'll like hear something. So, I freak out for a second and then I forget about it and then I lay down again and watch TV or something," Johnson said.
Police said controlling these substances for good will take much more than banning products like K3.
"If the legislature determines that they want to broaden this law so they can't get around it by making analogs, they'll have to say these particular substances, the ones that have been identified to date, and all their analogs as well," Officer Haden said.
A bill to ban K3 is being drafted. Republican State Representative Ward Franz is working to develop a bill that would ban the chemicals in K3 and different versions that could be developed. Franz told KOMU that he is working with the Department of Health and Senior Services and the state narcotics department to narrow down which chemicals need to be banned to prevent new products from being developed.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 other states besides Missouri have put bans on the chemicals commonly found in K2. Those states are Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, and North Dakota have placed administrative bans and are working towards state bans on the chemicals.
Michigan and Mississippi are the only two states with bans that include JWH-250, one of the chemicals commonly found in products like K3.