While the crisis of prescription drug abuse dominates headlines throughout Pinellas county, a different kind of drug is gaining enormous popularity. St. Petersburg and Clearwater teenagers, enlisted military personnel, and even those persons serving court imposed probationary sentences have their eye on a new kind of drug. They are visiting local gas stations, head shops, convenience stores, and the Internet to "score" a novel, synthetic form of marijuana popularly known as "K2" or "Spice." The substance lacks THC, (tetrahydrocannabinol) the illegal active ingredient found in marijuana that causes its hallucinogenic effects. Nevertheless, users of Spice maintain that this "substitute drug" gives them a similar, even stronger high, for about the same price. At gas stations and head shops around the Pinellas area, a three gram package of Spice sells for about $15...a comparable price for a similar amount of real marijuana sold on the street.
Originally developed in the1990s by a chemistry student in South Carolina at Clemson University, the synthetic marijuana compound was designed to treat medical conditions such as chronic pain and glaucoma. When that research later became public, imitators across the globe were ready and willing to re-create the substance.
The active ingredient in Spice, chemically known as compounds JWH-018 and JWH-073, are normally prepared by spraying those compounds onto dry plant matter or herbs. They are then crushed and placed into individual packages for sale. Much of the substance is produced and package in foreign countries like China and South Korea, and looks more like oregano or catnip than marijuana. Although manufacturers and retailers in the US cleverly describe Spice as a form of "incense" or "fragrance" that is not intended for human consumption, the typical spice user either rolls the substance into a joint or stuffs it into a pipe to be smoked like regular marijuana.
However, Unlike natural marijuana, synthetic cannibanoids such as Spice can have sudden, dangerous health consequences. The American Association of Poison Control Centers received fourteen calls about synthetic marijuana use in 2009. This year, that agency has already logged over 1,500 additional calls regarding the drug. What is the scariest thing about K2 or Spice? The drug's toxicity has never been researched, meaning that the short and long-term health effects of its use are unknown. The New York Times has reported, however, that Spice users from across the country have gone to the emergency room complaining of ailments ranging from high blood-pressure, panic attacks, racing heartbeats, vomiting, paranoia, and hallucinations. Since June of this year, six Tampa Bay residents have been admitted to the hospital after smoking Spice.
Florida Law Does Not Prohibit Spice... But not for long
Despite the growing number of reports of adverse effects associated with Spice, individuals across the State continue to line up to purchase the drug. Perhaps the biggest advantage Spice users have been touting is the fact that its presence will not show up on standard drug and urinalysis tests. For probationers subjected to that kind of testing on a regular basis, Spice is considered by many to be the perfect way to get high without getting caught.
While Spice might be considered a "legal high" at the moment, the Florida Legislature appears poised to change that next year. This summer, Republican Florida State Senator Stephen Wise of Jacksonville developed a detailed bill to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana products within the state. If the substance is banned, Florida will join Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee as states that already prohibit the substance outright. While some states have not yet addressed the issue of synthetic marijuana, several others have joined Florida with proposed legislation banning the substance.
However, Spice could be declared illegal in the state long before the legislature votes on it next year. The Florida Office of Drug Control is actively lobbying Attorney General Bill McCollum to place the substance on the state's list of illegal drugs. On top of that, the federal government wants to get involved as well. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration is also currently examining ways to place the drug on its list of scheduled substances. However, the thorough and time-consuming process required, means that any federal agency action could be far off in the future. If the federal government did enact a ban, the United States would join fifteen other countries, most of which are Western European, in banning the substance.
11/24/2010 - DEA Uses "Emergency Powers" to Ban Manufacture, Sale, and Possession of K2, Spice, JWH-018
The DEA has used its "emergency powers" to prohibit the importation, manufacture, sale, or possession of so-called "legal marijuana" by contending that the substance is "not approved for human consumption" by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The action further permits the federal Department of Health and Human Services to "study" the substance to determine if it will be placed on the list of federally controlled substances.
Local Law Enforcement and our judges are Bending Over Backwards to Find Ways to Curb the Use of Spice.
Even though Spice still enjoys temporary legal status in Florida, law enforcement and courts across the state are attempting to combat its sale and use. The Pinellas County Drug Court recently amended all Pretrial Intervention orders and orders of probation to prohibit those individuals on probation or pretrial release from using "any" mind-altering substance. It appears that these changes were made specifically to ensnare probationers who use K2 or Spice during their court supervision. In furthering that goal, the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's Office is currently developing a new protocol specifically designed to detect Spice or K2 in both urine and blood samples. The development of such a test would certainly destroy the false sense of security currently enjoyed by probationers and other court supervised individuals who use Spice and are subject to urine testing.
Getting Arrested for Spice Under the Theory it is a "Counterfeit Drug"
The increase in enforcement is not limited to just the courts. For example, Polk County has decided that Spice isn't so nice. Recently, Sheriff Grady Judd made headlines when he declared that his agency will treat synthetic marijuana products as "counterfeit drugs" in violation of Florida Statute 817.564. As a result of this creative designation, individuals that sell the product, such as store owners and clerks, could be viewed as committing the offense of selling an imitation controlled substance, a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Arrested for a Drug Offense in Pinellas County? We Can Help!
We are experienced criminal defense attorneys who handle drug and prescription drug offenses arising out of the St. Pete /Clearwater area. Our goal is often to seek rehabilitation and treatment as part of our strategy designed to avoid conviction and avoid jail.
Contact our office for a free consultation at: (727) 578-0303
Other Links of Interest:
Watch a Video News Report on Spice