By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Bans on spice drugs and mephedrone that won quick approval in the Senate earlier this month are making their way through N.C. House committees, but not without some resistance, especially in regards to their proposed April 1 effective date.
“I think it is important for folks to be educated about his issue. If teenagers are engaged in this practice now and in two months they are going to have a record for doing what they are doing now, I think it would be important to push that back,” said Rep. Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake), who insisted a Dec. 1 start date would give substance abusers more time to change their ways and law enforcement time to implement the statute.
But Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow), a primary sponsor of House bills that would outlaw synthetic marijuana and drugs sold under the guise of bath salts and plant food but used exclusively to get high, said the time to act is now.
“The public is well aware of this problem … It’s been in the newspapers all over the state and on the radio….,” he told members of the committee pushing for the delay. “In my district alone, 18 new tobacco shops opened up in the last three months that sell nothing but these items. It’s a money maker for a lot of unscrupulous people. The military has outlawed it. … It’s a huge problem.”
“If we do not act quickly we will have a lot larger problem a year down the road than we have now, exponentially larger,” he added, reminding lawmakers that law enforcement agencies are supportive of the bills.
Senate Bill 7, Ban Mephedrone, which had left the Senate with a Dec. 1 effective date, came to the House committee with the April date and an expanded title to include a more detailed list of substances, including MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone), named in the ban. It would make various chemicals with street names “m-cat,” “meow-meow,” “bubbles” “Ivory wave” etc., Schedule I substances. As such, they would be treated much like ecstasy, one of the illegal drugs they mimic.
Senate Bill 9, which already had an April 1 effective date, would outlaw synthetic cannabinoids, including “K2,” “Spice” and other substances sold as incense but smoked like marijuana. These foil-packeted herbs laced with chemical compounds would be placed on Schedule VI of the Controlled Substance List, next to marijuana. Possession of K2 would not be a felony unless the suspect had more than 1.5 ounces. Under the bill, anyone caught with more than 35 grams could be charged with trafficking, sentenced to 70 months and fined $50,000.
Ann Hamlin, special agent in charge with the drug chemistry and toxicology section of the State Bureau of Investigation, told the committee that because these substances have no known safe uses, they are totally unregulated and very dangerous. She said that research had shown some of the synthetic pot to be 100 times as potent as THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the active component in marijuana.
“In one month, one emergency room had seen 30 cases of teenagers who were experiencing hallucinations, severe agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting, tremors and seizures and these seem to be some of the common effects of smoking some of these compounds related to K2 or spice,” Hamlin said. She went further to explain the “blue limb effect” associated with the use of mephedrone.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, already in the first month and a half of this year, the U.S. poison centers have taken 469 calls regarding MPDV, up from 292 calls in all of 2010.
But Rep. Weiss (D-Wake) and Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) both said they wanted to know more about the health impacts before voting on Senate Bill 7. Rep. William Brisson (D-Bladen) also wanted to delay the bill’s effective date as did Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Edgecombe).
Weiss floated an amendment to move the date to December and insisted that she needed information on what substance abuse treatment is available in North Carolina, how much it cost and what kind of waiting lists there might be to access treatment. Like Weiss and Brisson, Rep. Insko was concerned about how users of the substances would be affected by felony charges.
“We talk about young people dying from this and we don’t want anybody to die from this, but I don’t want anybody to spend their life with felony convictions and all of the problems that that makes,” she said.
But Rep. Tom Murry (R-Wake) challenged those pushing for a December effective date to explain how the public health would be jeopardized from such a delay. And Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) also tried to get across the urgency of the situation.
“This substance acts the same as cocaine. This is serious business,” he said. “If you want to ask what’s worse than a felony, what’s worse than a felony is being dead. … We need to get this stuff off the market.”
The amendment to move the effective date to December failed, and the committee voted to send their Proposed Committee Substitute for SB 7 on to Judiciary Subcommittee B on a motion for favorable report from Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly). Similar arguments regarding the April effective date preceded their favorable recommendation on SB 9, on a motion by Rep. Dollar.
“We’re glad to see these bills progress despite a few hurdles in committee,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “What many lawmakers already understand and we trust the rest will realize is that putting these bans off until December would just give users and dealers eight more months to stockpile and buy and sell this product. It would also give them extra time to repackage and find more clandestine ways to market these substances that are already endangering lives.”