By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Synthetic cannabinoids and mephedrone — substances used to mimic the effects of marijuana or ecstasy — may soon join their natural but illegal counterparts on North Carolina’s list of controlled substances.
Members of the Senate’s Committee on Judiciary II gave quick approval Thursday to legislation that would make possession of fake pot (marketed as incense under names such as K2, Spice, Black Mamba and Mary Joy to name a few) a real crime under Schedule VI of the Controlled Substance Act. Like marijuana, possession of synthetic cannabis (herbs treated with a chemical compound similar to THC) would be a misdemeanor, with possession of more than 1.5 ounces a Class I felony. Under the proposed law, anyone caught with more than 35 grams could be charged with trafficking, sentenced to 70 months in prison and fined $50,000.
Similarly, the committee smiled on plans to add mephedrone to the Schedule I list, effective Dec. 1, making it illegal to possess the substance sometimes sold as bath salts or plant food but used to get high.
Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) introduced the synthetic cannabis bill, a proposed committee substitute (S 9 – Make Synthetic Cannanibinoids Illegal) that lawmakers said included the best features of Senate Bill 4, Senate Bill 9 and its companion, H 12. He said military leaders at Camp LeJeune had first made him aware of the growing problem of K2 and how rapidly it was becoming widely available on the shelves of tobacco shops, convenience stores and other locations. Because of K2’s quick spread, the bill proposes an April 1 date for implementation of the ban, rather than waiting until Dec. 1 when most criminal law changes take effect.
The sooner the better according to Capt. Richard Whisenant, with the Greensboro Police Department’s narcotics unit. Sen. Don Vaughn (D-Guilford) asked him to address the committee because Greensboro, home of five colleges, has had significant problems with K2 use.
After describing the drug’s effects as often more severe than those of marijuana, including “hallucinations, severe agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting, tremors, seizures” and more, Capt. Whisenant said Dr. John W. Huffman, who developed the key ingredients in the compounds while performing legitimate chemical research, called people who use the fake pot “idiots.”
Both Whisenant and Ann Hamlin, special agent in charge with the drug chemistry and toxicology section of the State Bureau of Investigation, pointed out that because these substances have no known safe uses, they are totally unregulated.
“The dangers of these new … research chemicals are not only the drugs but the way they are being manufactured, with … very little or no quality control measures,” Hamlin said. She went on to explain the fact that there are some 400 JWH (John W.Huffman) compounds in existence, which makes it necessity to ensure that the law applies to the substances’ chemical structure backbone so that producers don’t simply alter their product just enough to keep it legal.
Lawmakers also heard from a Cary mother whose son smoked synthetic cannabis last fall with his friend, who wound up in the hospital for two days.
“My husband and I were woken up to … distressed screaming …” Cindy Carr said. “When we went down to see what was going on he (her son’s friend, Austin) was completely in hallucination, had no idea who he was, where he was or what was going on.”
She said the 18-year-old went into seizure before paramedics arrived to find his heart rate at 280 and above. In a media interview her son had described using K2 as “possibly the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had.”
Some lawmakers concerned about keeping other young people from such terror but also wanting to be sure that first-time offenders were not unduly burdened with a criminal record raised the issue of whether such charges could be expunged from a person’s record. But legislative staff and certain committee members assured them the bill was fair, with simple possession only as a misdemeanor and issues of criminal records should be taken up separately.
Other Senators asked if the bill might hinder scientific research, but their fears were also allayed.
On a motion from Sen. Ed Jones (D-Bertie) and a second from Sen. Buck Newton (R-Nash), the bill received a favorable report from the committee, which almost immediately approved S 7 “Ban Medphedrone” as well.
Hamlin had told lawmakers that the SBI lab began to see mephedrone beginning around 2007 and that the U.S. Poison Control Center had already received 251 calls about the substance this year. She said users call the substance 4mmc, meow-meow, m-cat, bubbles or a number of other knicknames and purchase it online or in head shops to snort or swallow. Within 15 to 45 minutes, they can feel the effects that last some two to three hours and may leave their limbs turning blue.
“These dangerous substances — already popular with and accessible to young people — are now, thankfully, on the radar of lawmakers who have been researching how best to write legislation to get them off the streets,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We’re glad to see this committee send the bills on their way and believe that they will win approval in both chambers.”