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A synthetic form of marijuana that is banned in a handful of states has found its way to LaRue County.
Two men, one from Upton, the other from Louisville, have been charged with possession of synthetic cannabinoids this year.
Cannabinoid, also called spice or K2, is in high demand and can be purchased online, according to Kentucky State Police. It’s sold in brightly colored bags by some cigarette shops, gas stations and convenience stores. It does not look harmful and is designed to emulate the sensations produced by illicit substances.
However, synthetic marijuana can be up to 15 times more dangerous than natural marijuana, according to KSP.
Local law enforcement officials say the substances have been known to cause adverse effects including seizures, excessive heart rate and respiratory failure.
Chief Deputy Russell McCoy said the substance has caused serious injury or death in other areas. In appearance, it is a fluffy, brown substance similar to vermiculite used in potting soil.
He is not aware of any local stores that sell the product.
Although manufacturers market these items as herbal blends, dietary supplements and incense, the products lack complete ingredient labels and commonly are marked “not for human consumption.”
Possession of K2 is banned in Kentucky and covered by KRS 218A “possession of synthetic cannabinoid agonists and piperazines” and the selling of such products.
The state House of Representatives approved a bill last week to ban synthetic drugs altogether in a unanimous vote of 96-0.
House Bill 481 defines “synthetic drugs” as “any synthetic cannabinoids or piperazines or any synthetic cathinones,” which are identified as “any chemical compound which is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, or if approved which is not dispensed or possessed in accordance with state and federal law.”
Last year’s legislation banned the sale of so-called bath salts, said State Rep. Michael Meredith. House Bill 481 expands the ban on synthetic drugs to include synthetic forms of marijuana.
“Synthetic drugs are a great danger to our communities and especially our young people,” Meredith, who represents LaRue, Hart and Edmonson Counties, said. “Several deaths in the Commonwealth in recent years have been direct results of use of these dangerous drugs or have been the result of the actions of people under the influence of the drugs. We have banned similar substances in the past, but the makers of these harmful drugs have slightly changed the chemical makeup and created new versions of which the previous laws do not apply. House Bill 481 changes this by not only banning specific compounds in the drugs, but the class of these drugs as a whole. It is essential that we as legislators and those in law enforcement stay one step ahead of those who make and distribute synthetic drugs.”
Trooper Norman Chaffins, spokesman for Kentucky State Police, said there is a wide availability of “bath salts” with differing chemical makeup.
The KSP lab reports there are 305 identified bath salts at this time. Five are identified as containing synthetic methcathinone which makes it a controlled substance.
Statewide, in 2011, there were 201 arrests with 860 counts for possession or trafficking of bath salts.
Between January and Feb. 15, 2012, there have been 37 arrests with 150 counts, according to Chaffins.
With an emergency clause, the bill could go into effect as early as this spring if passed.
As written, HB 481 would make trafficking in synthetic drugs a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class D felony for each subsequent offense. Possession would be a Class B misdemeanor.
If passed, the bill also would revoke the liquor license of any business found selling the banned products.
Sarah Bennett contributed to this story.