Pubdate: Thu, 3 Jun 2010
Source: Tideland News (NC)
Copyright: 2010 Carteret Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Liz Maclean


Swansboro Police Chief Ed Parrish is concerned about a legal form of 
synthetic marijuana that has been wrinkling the brows of police 
departments across the country.

"It's being sold as potpourri," Parrish said of the synthetic 
marijuana, now available for sale in the community. However, its 
effects when smoked are similar to the real thing, and it's also 
priced a lot like the real thing.

"This stuff sells for about $30 an ounce," Parrish said.

The "potpourri" is a blend of various spices and herbs that have been 
sprayed with a synthetic chemical similar to THC, the psychoactive 
compound found in marijuana. Though most packages are marked with the 
disclaimer "not for human consumption," the spice blends are not 
generally sought for their aromatic appeal.

"It is hallucinogenic," Parrish explained. "Frequently referred to as 
synthetic marijuana, it can be as much as 40 percent more 
intoxicating than regular marijuana."

The fake pot is sold under several different brand names, such as K2, 
Spice and Genie. Some of the brands print an age restriction of 18 
and up on their labels.

"Why do you have to be 18 to buy potpourri?" Parrish asked.

But it's the fact that most of the synthetic marijuana does not have 
any age restrictions that really concerns Parrish.

"My motivation for getting this out to the public is education and 
awareness," Parrish said. "We need to let the parents of middle 
school and high school students be aware that this product is out 
there, and it's sold as potpourri. A 15-year-old can buy it. A 
15-year-old can buy a pipe and they can smoke this stuff."

While synthetic marijuana has been banned from military bases like 
Camp Lejeune and cannot be consumed on or off base by military 
personnel, North Carolina has not yet regulated the substance.

"It's currently not illegal in the U.S.," Parrish said. "Several 
states are looking at trying to ban it," he added. Some states and 
even some towns have already been successful in banning the 
substance, and synthetic marijuana has been banned in several 
European countries as well.

"The federal government and the DEA have not taken a stand on it 
yet," he added. However, the DEA does consider the fake pot to be a 
"drug of concern."

"It does not currently test positive on a drug test," Parrish said, 
and this is a big reason synthetic marijuana is favored by users, 
especially those in the military.

Until a drug test capable of screening synthetic marijuana is 
developed, users can fly under the radar.

"We're constantly playing catch-up with the criminals," Parrish said.

According to Parrish, a vehicle was pulled over last week because two 
people in the car were sharing what appeared to be a crack pipe. It 
turned out that the pipe contained only synthetic marijuana and no 
arrest was made.

However, Parrish said, his department is looking out for ways to keep 
users of fake pot from endangering themselves and others.

"We can charge (users) with careless and reckless driving and we can 
attempt to charge them with DWI if we can prove the substance is 
impairing," Parrish said.

While not illegal itself, Parrish said evidence of fake pot is often 
an indicator of other illicit activity.

"If we see this in the house, it's a tell-tale sign that we need to 
look a little further," Parrish said.

Synthetic marijuana was the subject of a recent meeting of area 
police chiefs hosted by Parrish in Swansboro.

"Law enforcement in general is hoping to see this become a controlled 
substance, for the safety of the general public," Parrish said. 
"Currently our hands are tied, except we feel like if (users of fake 
pot) drive a car and are under the influence and we can document that 
and prove it ... then we may be able to get a charge of DWI or 
careless and reckless driving."

According to other news reports, the active chemical in fake pot was 
first synthesized in a research laboratory about 15 years ago. That 
researcher, Clemson University chemist John Huffman, has gone on the 
record warning that the chemical may be harmful and should not be consumed.

Smoking fake pot could have unwanted consequences for users, such as 
dangerously high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, hallucinations and paranoia.

As with any drug, synthetic marijuana should not be consumed in 
conjunction with operating a vehicle or machinery.

"It is so impairing," Parrish said.
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