Lawmaker looks to ban synthetic marijuana

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Synthetic marijuana bears a striking resemblance to the real thing with a glaring difference its legal though a local lawmaker wants to nip fake cannabis fad in the bud.

Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49) began researching synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or spice, after an Arlington school official approached him with concern about the still legal product. States and cities across the country have banned the substance and Ebbin wants Virginia to join the growing list. 

It also can cause elevated blood pressure, heart rates and other symptoms that dont match up with marijuana, he said. Its frightening, but its also frightening that its so easy to get and purchase over the counter without any restrictions.

Smoking the chemically treated leaves and twigs reportedly causes a high similar to marijuana for some. But its more dangerous than the real thing. And unlike other smoking products, like cigarettes, there are no age restrictions to buy it, Ebbin said. 

If you can buy it at a gas station or a convenience store, kids are going to learn about it if they already dont know. Making it illegal for commercial sale is only going to decrease the supply, he said. There are millions and millions of people who havent tried it or dont really know about it. By shutting down the pipeline now, we will in fact limit exposure to these potentially fatal consequences.

The substance is labeled as incense and though the one-gram package acquired by the Times at an Alexandria convenience store states in bold letters not for human consumption, it also describes the product as an exotic smoking blend. Regardless of the packaging, Ebbin believes spice is being marketed as a legal alternative to marijuana. 

He plans to sponsor a bill banning the substance in Virginia by January 12 and rejects the notion prohibiting the incense would be similar to outlawing other commercial products misused as recreational drugs, like glue or aerosols. 

Though the synthetic blend is readily available for purchase online, finding it at a corner store at least in Alexandria is harder than it seems. Finding a single gram package took nearly two hours of stopping into 10 convenience stores from Old Town to Del Ray and finally Arlandria. 

Quinn, who would not give his full name, co-owns the Glass Stache, a new smoke shop on North Lee Street. He wont touch the stuff, he said. Its got a bad connotation, he said, leaning against a counter displaying the stores supply of glass smoking products. They sell incense, but no K2, he said.

Whether the state should ban the product, though, Quinn doesnt know. 

You cant have people telling you what to do with yourself, he said. I mean look at tobacco. I can see people not wanting second-hand smoke, but were not banning tobacco because of it. 

Also in question is the potency of the substance, reportedly treated with a THC-like chemical. A volunteer subject approached by the Times to test the K2 Knockout bought in Alexandria said he liked the idea of legal marijuana, but the final product left a lot to be desired. 

He reported feeling warm, fuzzy and tingly after smoking the substance, but said his experience with spice wasnt like a marijuana high. He did not suffer from any of the side effects attributed to the product, like rapid heart rate, nausea, paranoia or seizures. 

Im pretty disgusted. I wouldnt smoke that again, he said. Its a nice idea.

Still, Ebbin doesnt expect any opposition to the bill. He predicts it will have broad bipartisan support in the statehouse. 

I think this is the kind of bill that will pass 140 to nothing, he said.

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