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New Jersey Considering Ban on K2 And Other Synthetic Marijuana

Local law enforcement and drug treatment centers have a popular new drug on their radar. Typically sold with a wink and a chuckle as incense or potpourri, the visually similar substance provides the user with a high similar to cheap marijuana. Sold under such monikers as "K2," "Genie," "Yucatan Fire," "Spice," "Smoke," "Sence," "Zohai," and "Skunk," the synthetic substance is a major problem for law enforcement in that it is completely legal in New Jersey and is widely available in smoke shops and online. The substance does not show up on traditional drug screening tests.

Mount Olive narcotics officer Detective John Walker states that a person cannot be charged with possession or use of synthetic marijuana via traditional means, but it is possible to be charged if caught driving under the influence of the drug. Individuals should be careful about New Jersey's "huffing" statute, drafted mainly to charge those abusing nitrous oxide and glue. That statute could also be used to charge those found using synthetic marijuana. Walker says too many people are quick to try any substance if they think it will get them high, often without knowing any of the substances contents or actual effects.

No long term studies exist to provide concrete info on the health effects of synthetic marijuana. Officials note it's impossible to know what goes into the stuff and that a handful of reported instances highlight possible serious side effects. The New Jersey Poison and Information and Education Center has fielded synthetic marijuana-related calls involving accelerated heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, nausea, paranoia, hallucinations, psychotic episodes, and seizures. The American Association of Poison Control Centers has reports its centers throughout the country receiving a combined total of more than 900 calls related to the new drug since July.

K2 is listed as a "drug or chemical of concern" by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, but is not a "scheduled" drug, so it's not yet illegal to consume or possess. K2 is banned in a handful of states, but not yet in New Jersey. Back in May of this year, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, R-Monmouth, brought legislation that would ban K2 and three other substances with chemical compounds similar to cannabis. The Assemblywoman claims K2 is the hottest new drug out there, especially for teens, and hopes for action on the bill this year.

Clemson University chemist John Huffman is credited with first synthesizing marijuana in the mid-1990's. After creating a substance similar in chemical structure to THC, marijuana's active ingredient, he gave the substance the title of JWH-018. His creation has since been sprayed on incense and sold with the intent that it be smoked.

Those in favor of legalizing actual marijuana are using the dangers and content uncertainty of K2 as reasons why cannabis should be legalized. While little research on the effects of synthetic marijuana exists, cannabis is one of the most studied plants in history.

New Jersey will be watching closely to see what sort of traction Anelini's bill receives this year.

Source: Randolph Reporter "Legal 'marijuana' raises local concerns" 8/13/10

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