Pubdate: Thu, 20 Mar 2014
Source: Fort Saskatchewan Record, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 2014 Sun Media
Contact: Contact:
Author: Ben Proulx


This story is Part 1 of 2 surrounding the issue of synthetic 
cannabinoids and their local availability

A local store connected to the sale of a synthetic cannabinoid has 
fallen into a grey area of Canadian law.

River City Cigars, located on Westpark Boulevard in Fort 
Saskatchewan, has been selling "Spirit 420," a "herbal incense" - the 
brand of which was connected with synthetic cannabinoids in a March 
2013 investigation in Medicine Hat.

"Cannabinoids originate from marijuana. These are synthetic 
cannabinoids that are basically made in a lab," said Bradley 
Mitchelmore, a clinical assistant professor with the University of 
Alberta's Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Addressing cannabinoids in general, and not specifically the 
substance being sold as Spirit 420, Mitchelmore noted synthetics are 
"way more potent... than what you would see in regular marijuana. 
There are different numbers thrown around for different (strains) but 
they're several times more potent than Delta THC or THC that you 
would find in marijuana."

He added the synthetic substances usually "act more quickly and don't 
act as long as regular marijuana, but their toxicities are 
significantly higher."

River City Cigars owner Nathan Yusep did not confirm whether he 
currently sells the synthetic drug, instead saying "I've been known 
to sell them."

Spirit 420 purchased

A purchase of Spirit 420 was made at the local Westpark Boulevard 
store by Record staff on Monday, March 10.

When asked, "Do you guys still sell that herbal stuff?" - as the 
substance is commonly referred to as herbal incense - the girl behind 
the cash register responded by saying, "Yes, we have Spirit 420," 
before retrieving a black resealable and unmarked bag containing the substance.

She then noted the cost of the purchase would be $50 cash, or there 
would be "tax with debit, which is $2.50." The substance was 
purchased at a total cost of $52.50.

Health concerns

"Do I think it's safe? I would say that if it weren't, I probably 
wouldn't have carried it in the past," Yusep said, noting that he has 
a lab report listing the "compounds" and "makeup" of the synthetic substance.

"I think there are different degrees of safe," he said.

"I have been asked many times over the past several years to carry 
salvia and bath salts, but my answer to those people - who are all of 
age, by the way - was absolutely not. The reason why is because it's 
not safe. We hear all the stories about it."

An incident in St. Albert in September 2013, however, saw two teens 
found separately within a couple of hours of one another - 14 and 16 
years old - who ended up in the hospital as a result of using 
synthetic cannabinoids.

According to Mitchelmore - who said that studies show around 10 per 
cent of high school seniors have used synthetic cannabinoids - 
negative health impacts aren't unusual.

"There are risks of abnormal heart rhythms, seizures - there are 
quite a few documented cases of hospitalizations with very severe 
illness leading to coma with them," he said.

In July 2013, Health Canada released that effects of using synthetic 
cannabinoids include "headaches, confusion, mood changes, nausea, 
anxiety, hallucinations, seizures, psychotic episodes and in some 
cases, death."

"I happen to know what we had in the store didn't contain any 
JWH-018," Yusep said, addressing a chemical compound deemed illegal 
that was prevalent in synthetic cannabinoids.

"They used words like 'similar to' but that's only because the 
pharmacological effects of it, which you can get from a cup of 
coffee... It affects everybody differently. If I really get buzzed 
from this coffee and I really need this as part of my day, well, do 
we need to ban coffee because it affected me in a different way than 
it affected you?"

A March 2013 case, wherein a Medicine Hat retailer faced trafficking 
charges for selling a product named "Spirit 420" - which police found 
to be a cannabinoid - was followed by a September 2013 incident 
involving another Alberta retail outlet.

The Chad 420 Smoke Shop in St. Albert saw a police seizure of 
synthetic marijuana - sold as "Zap'r" or "Stinger," according to RCMP 
- - which police noted to be a Schedule II drug under the Controlled 
Drugs and Substances Act.

However, Cpl. Laurel Kading, media liaison with St. Albert RCMP, said 
synthetic cannabinoids fall under a grey area of enforcement.

"People are trying to produce substances that are not defined... 
under the Criminal Code," she said.

"They're trying to use different chemical combinations that skirt 
around the law, if I can put it that way. So therefore, depending on 
what's being sold, the chemical analysis of it would be the 
determination of whether charges could be laid or not."

Yusep said he believes Health Canada should not have "balled (the 
different synthetic cannabinoids) up into one big ball of wax."

"I have a problem with that," he said. "Last time I checked... this 
is a free country - last time I checked.

"We do have a Nazi regime in power that runs this country, and to 
take into consideration these anti-tobacco groups and all this, it's 
bloody ridiculous.

"Smoking is either legal or it isn't. You can't be half pregnant. 
You're either pregnant or you're not. So it's either legal or it 
isn't. But to tell people, 'You can smoke, but you can't smoke that;' 
'You can drink, but you can't drink that;' we're being told what to 
say, 'You've got to be politically correct, you can't say that;' 
we're being told what to think, 'This is bad;' we're being told what 
to do with everything, every day.

"If that's not a bunch of Nazis running the country, I don't know what is."

Yusep said that, "without thoroughly investigating each individual 
item and compound, and everything that makes up each individual 
synthetic," it's wrong to group them all together.

Still, according to S/Sgt. Ron Campbell, communications officer with 
RCMP "K" Division, many synthetic cannabinoids are sold with a 
warning label that the substance is not for human consumption.

"Vendors of these products are fully aware of the nature and intent 
for which the consumer is purchasing these products," he said.

Regardless, Yusep said there are positives to the private industry of 
synthetic cannabinoids - one he said has become "very popular" for customers.

"You tell me how backwards I am for wanting to give the public what 
they don't want to travel into a dark back alley to get," he said.

"Do I think there are positives to the products? Absolutely. I think 
there are a lot of (positives). There are less shady drug deals going 
down out there on the streets because of what people like me and 
myself have done. It's just the way it is.

"Am I saying that churches should start doing it? Of course not. I'm 
not going to sit here and say I'm a saint, but I'm certainly not the devil."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom