Pubdate: Sat, 13 Mar 2010
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2010 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Blake Aued


As state lawmakers move to ban a synthetic form of marijuana that sent
three Atlanta teens to the hospital, local officials say they have not
seen any abuse of the new drug.

A bill in the state House of Representatives would ban a compound
known as K2 or spice, an artificial - and stronger - form of chemicals
found in marijuana that produce euphoric and hallucinogenic effects.
It does not show up on drug tests.

State Rep. Jay Neal, R-Lafayette, introduced House Bill 1309 after a
drug counselor showed him articles about K2 from other states. As a
minister, Neal said he sees the dangers of drug abuse and wanted to
stop spice before it became popular in Georgia.

"An awful lot of people are shocked that something hasn't been done
about it already," he said.

The Kansas legislature recently banned K2, and several other states
are following suit.

K2 is sprayed on potpourri or loose tobacco and sold commercially,
said Athens-Clarke police Lt. Mike Hunsinger, head of the drug unit.

"It's marketed as incense, but people smoke it because they know they
can get high," Hunsinger said. "It's obviously not intended for human
consumption, and there ought to be some regulations."

Police said they have received a few reports of people smoking spice
in Athens, but no reports of injury or abuse. Local smoke shops do not
sell it, Athens-Clarke police Chief Jack Lumpkin said.

Police said they favor banning the substance because it could one day
catch on with children or people who have difficulty obtaining real
marijuana. And no one knows what its health effects are.

"Because it's synthetic, it may be more harmful than the natural
herb," Lumpkin said.

The Clemson University researcher who invented the compound 10 years
ago to study the relationship between THC and the brain warned people
not to use it recreationally.

"Their effects in humans have not been studied and they could very
well have toxic effects," John Huffman said in a written statement.

In Roswell, three teenagers landed in the hospital last month after
smoking K2, according to news reports. Two were held for observation
and released, while one suffered swelling of the brain.

The recent media attention makes passing the K2 ban even more urgent
because it raised awareness of the drug, Neal said.

"There's a lot of people who know about it (now) than knew about it
before, so that's all the more reason to get it passed," he said.

Neal said he hopes the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee will hold a
hearing on his bill next week.

State Reps. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, and Terry England, R-Auburn,
are among the lawmakers who have signed on as co-sponsors.

"Sometimes you have to protect people from themselves," Benton said.
"In this case, it can be bought over the counter, in my understanding,
by anyone."

Benton, a retired teacher, came under fire last year from activists
who want to legalize marijuana. Benton told one activist in an e-mail
that drug dealers should be executed. After the e-mail exchange was
posted on a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Web
site, Benton said he received more than 450 calls and e-mails, some of
them threatening.

"With my background on opposing any kind of marijuana, I had to sign
on to that bill," he said. 
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