Pubdate: Sat, 06 Nov 2010
Source: Abilene Reporter-News (TX)
Copyright: 2010 Abilene Reporter-News
Author: Celinda Emison


The rush by numerous communities in the Big Country to ban the sale of
synthetic marijuana has intensified, but Abilene officials are digging
in their heels and hoping laws banning the sale of the substance will
be enacted by state legislators in the 2011 session.

During last week's City Council meeting, Mayor Norm Archibald
encouraged residents to contact their legislators to consider a
statewide ban on synthetic cannabis, known by brand names K2 or Spice.

"I feel this issue could get priority treatment," Archibald said.

Representatives from the REACH Club of Texas State Technical College
called on the Abilene City Council to ban the sale of herbal incense
of all forms, saying that the substance was as much as 100 times more
powerful than marijuana.

"It is sold as incense but our kids are smoking it," said Cynthia
Chambers of the REACH Club.

Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge and other members of the
department have been actively researching the substance. Standridge
pointed out the adverse effects of the substance but said so far,
synthetic cannabis had not been reported at schools or discovered in
recent drug busts.

"I share the same concerns that other communities have expressed,"
Standridge said. "I suspect there will be continued dialogue with all
interested parties as we make decisions that are best for the safety
and welfare of our community."

For now a possible ban in Abilene is on hold.

During the council meeting last week, Archibald questioned whether a
ban would be effective because retailers could move their operations
to the county where they cannot be regulated.

"We are at the behest of the state Legislature when it comes to
passing laws (such as banning K2)," said Taylor County Judge Downing
Bolls. "Counties don't have any jurisdiction in passing laws like
cities do. So if the state Legislature passed a law banning K2 it
would be up to us to enforce that law."

Standridge agreed a citywide ban might be difficult to enforce.

"The enforcement of an ordinance would prove to be more difficult than
if the state were to pass a law prohibiting the sale, manufacture, or
possession of such substances," Standridge said.

Texas Sen. Florence Shapiro and Rep. Ken Paxton plan to introduce
legislation making synthetic marijuana and the chemicals associated
with it, controlled substances.

District 71 State Rep. Susan King said all evidence will have to be
weighed before a statewide ban can be enacted.

"There has to be a balance," King said. "Whether it should be a local
discussion or legislated by the state. We also have to look at the
issue of public health and safety."

"So many of our rural communities are banning this," said District 85
State Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, whose district includes some
counties north and west of Abilene. "I feel like it will be a priority
in the coming session."

What is it?

Marijuana substitutes such as K2 are mixtures of herbs and spices
sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the
psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Users roll it up in joints or
inhale it from pipes.

The substance is an unregulated mixture of dried herbs, flowers and
tobacco that is covered with a synthetic compound purported to give a
high similar to marijuana. It is commonly called K2, Spice, Blonde and
Summit, according to a report compiled by the Abilene Police

The main concern is the use of chemicals such as one identified as
JWH-018 or JWH-073, which is sprayed on the herbal mixture and mimics
the effects of tetrahydracannabinal or THC, Standridge reported. This
chemical was first created in a lab in 1994 by a Clemson University
chemist who was studying the effects of cannabinoids on humans.

The synthetic marijuana comes in a variety of "scents" such as
"Chocolate," "Lavender" and "Ambrosia," and "Death," which is one of
the pricier varieties. Other varieties carry names such as "California
Dreams" and "Armageddon." The packaging warns that the herbal mixture
is "not for consumption."

In Abilene, the herbal mixture is sold in three-gram packages that
cost from $20 to $65, which is more expensive than its marijuana
counterpart that goes for $25 to $35 for seven grams.

Mr. Nice Guys, Scent Station and High XPectations are three of the
shops in Abilene that sell synthetic marijuana, according to APD

Calls to all three retailers were not returned.

The effects

 From January 1 to October 19, there were 279 exposures of synthetic
marijuana or "marijuana homologues" reported to the Texas Poison
Center Network. Of that total, eight exposures came from the Big
Country - two cases each in Taylor, Nolan, and Brown counties and one
case each in Erath and Howard counties.

Some of the negative effects of the herbal incense include increased
heart rate, nausea, confusion, hallucinations, dizziness and seizures,
according to the Department of State Health Services.

Emergency room officials at Hendrick Medical Center say there have
been no known cases reported there so far.

"If we suspected it, say if two teens came in and one said his friend
had taken it, we would treat the symptoms," said Susie Butz,
coordinator for trauma services at Hendrick.

Butz said there is not a screen that immediately tests for the harmful
agents in the substance.

"We have to send it off and that takes seven days," Butz said.

Linda Roark, owner of Any Lab Test Now of Abilene, says she has gotten
many calls from parents regarding the test for the chemicals in
synthetic marijuana. The urinalysis which tests for the presence of
JWH-018 and JWH-073 costs $121, and it takes three to five days to get
the results.

"The cost is prohibitive and that is because it is not illegal," she
said. "I believe it will eventually become illegal and the price will
come down."

Last week Standridge told the City Council no agency tracks the
substance's use, and the Texas Department of Public Safety Lab does
not test it because it is not listed as a controlled substance.

"If we come across the loose leaf, the DPS is not going to test it
because it is not illegal," Standridge explained.

But officials at the Department of Public Safety are developing a test
for the substance, should it become legal, said Tela Mange, a DPS

Area bans

In August, the Dallas City Council banned possession of the of
synthetic marijuana and the paraphernalia for its use, according to
The Dallas Morning News.

Last week Brownwood and Winters became the latest cities to pass
ordinances on first reading banning the sale of herbal incense.
Additionally, Breckendrige, Eastland, Early and Sweetwater have
enacted bans.

A 16-year-old Sweetwater teen who was found unconscious and rushed to
Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital earlier this month was the catalyst
that prompted the City Council to enact a ban Oct. 12 on the substance
and the pipes it is smoked in. A 20-year-old man and woman also were
taken to the emergency room after suffering adverse effects from
smoking the substance, according to Sweetwater Police Chief Jim
Kelley. Kelley disputes the state's exposure numbers - saying there
have actually been three in Nolan County.

"Everybody saw a horrible trend developing so we reacted by enacting
an ordinance," Kelley said. "It was like seeing someone on LSD - we
didn't want to pick a kid up and take them to the funeral home."

The 16-year-old boy later told authorities and his mother that he had
smoked a product called California Dreams that was purchased from
Scents-able Sarah's, a shop on Broadway Street in Sweetwater.

The day after the city banned the sale of substances containing
JWH-018 and other chemicals and paraphernalia, Bobby Alexander and his
wife, Sarah, were forced to close their shop, where they sold herbal
incense and pipes.

Alexander has started a petition to have the Sweetwater ordinance

"We were completely railroaded," Alexander said.

Alexander insists that his herbal blends were completely organic and
had not been sprayed with chemicals.

"There is nothing about any of the herbs that I carry in my store that
is not natural," Alexander said.

Alexander said he always made customers show their identification with
every purchase and said he would have complied had the city passed an
ordinance raising the age to purchase the herbal incense from 18 to

Alexander, who admits to smoking the herbal incense, said in the three
weeks he was open, the shop made an $8,000 profit.

"We were open three weeks and sold out four times," Alexander said.
"That shows you there is a demand for it."

Alexander said his demographic was adults, ages 20 to 50.

"It has the same effect as marijuana without the legal ramifications,"
Alexander said.
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