Police chief looks into possible ban of synthetic marijuana

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Aug. 21, 2010 at 3:21 a.m.

Hypno and Freedom are two types of synthetic marijuana products sold at D&D Novelties. Owner Donna Shook says she sells it legally as incense made for aromatherapy.

Hypno and Freedom are two types of synthetic marijuana products sold at D&D Novelties. Owner Donna Shook says she sells it legally as incense made for aromatherapy.

Donna Shook worries her shop, D&D Novelties, will lose business if one of its most popular items is banned in Victoria.

The item is known as K2, an incense being smoked as synthetic marijuana, and Police Chief Bruce Ure is looking to put a stop to its sale.

Ure has been reviewing whether an ordinance banning the herbal incense would be a prudent move.

"I think it's clear that the manufacturers have found a loophole," Ure said. "They are selling it under the pretext that it's an incense. I would bet the farm that not one is using it as aroma therapy."

At least nine stores in Victoria sell the product, which is a mixture of herbs and spices sprayed with a chemical compound similar to the one found in marijuana, Ure said.

The product is known by several names, such as "spice," "genie," and "smoke," and its use in the past several months, locally and nationally, is widespread and increasing, he said.

The product is found at convenience stores and head shops, but Ure did not disclose names of local sellers as fear of more widespread usage.

The high produced by smoking the incense is similar, if not, more dangerous than smoking marijuana, Ure said.

The product can cause panic attacks, hearts palpitations, short-term memory loss and even seizures, he added.

The trend is not only local.

At least 10 states have some form of a ban on K2.

Texas is one of the leading states using synthetic marijuana in the U.S., according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Utah, Missouri, Indiana and Georgia are also on the list.

Bans are even being seen on the local level, with several cities that have signed ordinances, like Victoria is considering.

"If you can't sell marijuana, you certainly should not be able to sell K2," Ure said.

Shook agrees the product should not be smoked and should only be used for aroma therapy, as stated on its label.

However her job is to legally buy the product and to sell it to customers.

She has no control if a buyer abuses the product, she said.

"They are taking people's rights away to something that is totally legal," she said. "Whatever they do with it, that's their business."

Even if the herbal incense is legal, it still has similar effects of marijuana, if not worse, said Stephanie Bassano, an alcohol and drug abuse counselor at Mid-Coast Family Services.

"It can do more harm than regular marijuana due to the fact that it's manufactured," said Bassano, who has been with Mid-Coast for 12 years. "It only just came up pretty recently."

The novelty store has been selling it for about six months, Shook said.

Bassano heard about K2 during a July conference with the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals.

So far, she has not counseled anyone, but wouldn't doubt if they soon trickled in, she said.

Nationally, poison centers have reported 1,057 calls about K2 and its related products, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System.

Locally, the use of the product is "clearly on the radar," Ure said.

Police officers have encountered people high under the substance over the past several months, he said.

"There is definitely a lack of empirical data on this," he said. "It's difficult to poll the masses to find out who is using it."

Bassano's bigger fear is the easy access to people under 18; however, Shook makes sure no one under 18 is allowed in her shop.

But she can't vouch for other shops who carry the product, she added.

Ure understands otherwise.

"We're lead to believe that your age matters very little in the overall scheme of buying it in Victoria," he said.



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