15 States Ban Synthetic Marijuana

November 9, 2011 by staff 

15 States Ban Synthetic Marijuana, South Carolina became the 38th state to ban “bath salts,” a synthetic drug that mimics cocaine, and synthetic marijuana, called K2 or spice, on Monday.

The S.C Board of Health and Environmental Control voted unanimously in a conference call to ban the two drugs that are commonly found for sale at gas station convenience stores.

The board moved three stimulants found in bath salts, which can be snorted, smoked or injected, and five cannabinoids used in smokable synthetic marijuana to the schedule 1 controlled substance list, making their possession and sale illegal statewide.

The move came on the heals of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration placing a temporary federal ban on the bath salt compounds mephedrone, MDPV and methylone on Friday, and on five chemicals in spice in early September.

Once the DEA has scheduled a substance, DHEC has the right to mirror the decision, making the drugs illegal until the legislature writes specific legislation to override the scheduling.

Over the past six months in particular hospitals across the state have seen a jump in patients saying they’ve used one of the drugs and earlier this month the investigators determined that an Anderson University student died after smoking synthetic marijuana. Last month South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s chief toxicologist Wendy Bell said that the agency was seeing more cases of DUI and sexual misconduct involving the drugs. But until DHEC’s decision officers could only charge suspects with their other crimes or “disorderly conduct”, not for actually using or having the drugs.

DHEC’s decision means that state and local law enforcement officials will be able to make arrests and charges when the drugs are involved or being sold. Possessing schedule 1 drugs can mean felony charges and up to 15 years of jail time and steep fines for a first offense.

DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick, said the step is unusual and that the state typically relies on the legislature to ban dangerous drugs.

“At this point, with these two substances being imminent public health threats the board needed to make this move,” Myrick said. “Even before the vote the substances are illegal, but we know that our law enforcement partners out there are ready for this change because like us they’ve seen the numerous reports and stories about the very catastrophic reactions people have had to these substances.”

But he said going through the legislature to get the substances on the law books is advantageous because adjustments to the federal ban can be made more easily, and the language can be broadened to include all substances like bath salts or synthetic marijuana, not just the eight specific chemical compounds DHEC outlawed.

State laws would be helpful to law enforcement because synthetic drug manufacturers can easily tweak the compounds they use so that they aren’t technically a schedule 1 substance, but still have the same effects. Bell said that after the DEA banned five cannabinoids, her lab very quickly started seeing new, slightly different compounds that would comply with the federal ban.

A bill banning several synthetic cannabis chemicals was introduced in the state Senate early this year and made it to the House, but never made it out of the Judiciary Committee. Neither did a March House bill to put five of the most common bath salt chemicals. The general assembly reconvenes in Columbia in January and is expected to pick up some form of the legislation.

SLED will be involved in enforcement along with local agencies, but officials would not comment on a definite plan Monday.

Spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson said the agency did begin notifying state agencies, local law enforcement and municipalities to keep an eye out for the change on Friday when the DHEC announced the meeting. SLED also aimed to reach the stores where the drugs are most often sold by asking S.C. Association of Convenience Stores, S.C. Petroleum Marketers Association and the S.C. Education Lottery to contact their members.

Almost a dozen South Carolina counties and cities outlawed the drugs before DHEC.

Press release from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control:

The South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has reclassified three substances that are commonly known as “bath salts”, and five substances used to make synthetic marijuana as schedule I controlled substances.

“State law authorizes the DHEC Board to designate a substance as a controlled substance in this state if the federal government has issued the same designation,” said Carl Roberts, general counsel for DHEC.

Roberts said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed three substances often marketed as “bath salts,” but actually ingested as psychoactive drugs, as schedule I controlled substances effective Oct. 21. The three substances are mephedrone, methylone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Products that have long been used for bathing and are available in the health/beauty sections of national retail chains do not contain these chemicals. The five substances commonly used in synthetic marijuana have previously been classified by the DEA as schedule I controlled substances.

“With the board’s vote today, the state’s designation of these substances mirrors the federal designation,” Roberts said. “This will allow state and local law enforcement officers to deal with the issue, as it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, possess, import or export these substances. These chemicals have been found by the DEA to pose an imminent hazard to public safety and health.”

Schedule I status is reserved for those substances with a high potential for abuse, no accepted use for medical treatment in the U.S. and a lack of accepted safety guidelines for use of the drug under medical supervision. South Carolina law states that anyone convicted of the possession, manufacture or distribution of a schedule I controlled substance is guilty of a felony and on first offense is subject to not more than five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000, with more severe penalties for subsequent offenses.

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