Synthetic marijuana banned by Tennessee Legislature
Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 9:07 pm
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter
Part 1 of 2
By JOHN BRANNON
The party’s over for high school students who bought synthetic marijuana over the counter at local convenience stores.
Obion County General Sessions Judge Jimmy Smith said high schoolers were fond of incense products marketed under the names “PEP Spice,” “Serenity,” “K2 Summit,” “K2 Pink Herbal” and others.
“It was sold at convenience stores. High school kids liked it. It gave them a real big high,” Smith said. “They smoked it like marijuana and it was legal for them to buy.”
But now it’s illegal. A bill to that effect was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly May 13 and signed into law by Gov. Phil Bredesen May 26. It went into effect July 1.
The new law bans the possession and distribution of products containing the hallucinogenic plant salvia divinorum or the synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018, JWH-073, HU-210 and HU-211.
“We may be the first area to enforce this new law. I’m glad to see the legislature met the issue head-on early-on,” Smith said. “If they hadn’t passed the law this session, we’d have had to wait a year before anything could be done. So Tennessee was ahead instead of behind on this one. It’s good news for kids around here and for their families.”
Smith, Obion County Circuit Court Judge Bill Acree Jr. and Weakley County General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore preside over the 27th Judicial District’s drug court program. The program currently has 27 men and women enrolled who have been convicted of a nonviolent felony offense. For those violators who are approved for participation, it is an opportunity to avoid prison. But they must adhere to the terms of a rigid “contract,” including weekly drug screenings.
Smith said DTF officers alerted the court about the new law.
“There were some local stores selling it as incense, at least before it became illegal,” Smith said. “Once DTF showed the law to us, we encouraged them to go out and make sure nobody still had it on their shelves and, if they did, make sure it was taken off the shelves. The officers went back for a return visit. Whether they found any when they went back, I don’t know. But I do know it should be off the shelves now.”
District Attorney Tommy Thomas said the DTF is putting stores on notice that if they are selling this stuff, it’s a violation of the law. “This gives them a chance to get it off the shelves,” he said.
Possession of it would be a misdemeanor offense. “Clearly, if they are in possession of it with intent to sell, it would be a felony offense,” Thomas said.
JWH-018 is an analogue of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the principal active component of cannabis. According to the free Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, studies on JWH-018 show “an affinity for the cannabinoid brain receptor five times greater than that of THC. On Dec. 15, 2008, it was reported by a German pharmaceutical company, Pharm, that JWH-018 was found as one of the active components in at least three versions of the herbal spend, ‘Spice,’ which has been sold as incense, in a number of countries around the world since 2002.
“Users may experience more intense effects compared to smoking cannabis. … JWH-018 may cause intense anxiety, agitation and even seizures or convulsions.”
Dr. Anthony Scalzo, a toxicologist at St. Louis University who studied JWH-018, told the Associated Press he has seen more than 30 cases of Missouri teenagers having agitation, elevated heart rates, vomiting and other health effects.
“A former drug court guy told me he got so high on it that it scared him,” Smith said. “Well, it scares us to hear that. I’m happy the legislature acted and made this stuff illegal.”
According to the website, JWH-018 is not federally controlled in the United States, but the Drug Enforcement Administration labeled it a “drug and chemical of concern” in 2009. It has been outright banned by several states, including Kentucky. On April 1, the Kentucky legislature voted to ban all synthetic marijuana, making it a Class A misdemeanor to manufacture or traffic. Gov. Steve Beshear signed the legislation into law on April 13.
Published in The Messenger 8.31.10