Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation to deal with the serious problem of an emerging class of drugs known as "synthetic cannabinoids." The new law, which went into effect Oct. 1, prohibits the sale and possession of drugs intended to mimic the effects of marijuana, commonly sold under brand names such as "K-2," "Spice," "Voodoo Spice" "Scooby Snax," "Mr. Nice Guy" and "Mystery," to name just a few.
Particularly troubling is that the packaging of these products often depict cartoon characters or images that are appealing to young people. Commonly, the packaging label contains language advising that the product is "incense" and "not for human consumption." In the past, however, retailers have sold it to buyers with a wink and a nod. They intimate the product is to be smoked and that it will give the user a high similar to marijuana. They also tout that the drug cannot be detected in the blood stream or urine by normal testing methods.
It should be understood that the label "synthetic cannabinoid" or "synthetic marijuana" is actually a misnomer, as these drugs' effects may be similar to marijuana, but the chemical make-up and lasting damage they cause are far worse. These drugs have nothing to do with marijuana. In reality they are very dangerous designer drugs that were originally created in a laboratory and first discovered in the U.S. in 2008 by a Drug Enforcement Agency forensic lab. What makes these drugs especially dangerous is that in order to stay a step ahead of law enforcement, the manufacturers constantly make changes to the chemical ingredients. Consequently, abusers of these drugs have no idea what they are ingesting — what has been added or sprayed onto them or from where they came.
Synthetic cannabinoids have been found to be five to 45 times more potent than some of the strongest marijuana, and the psychoactive ingredient in them can be 100 to 800 times more potent than naturally occurring THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). Reported adverse effects on humans include anxiety, panic attacks, heart palpitations, respiratory problems, aggression, mood swings, hallucinations, numbness in the extremities, night-sweats and even death.
Possessing these dangerous substances will carry the same penalty as other illegal drugs, that is, up to four years in jail. Penalties for distributing these substances will mirror the existing statute for illegal drugs.
Stopping this scourge in our communities will require a total effort from parents and teachers, coaches and cops — and most of all the business community. Montgomery County Police detectives and other law enforcement authorities across the state will be checking retail outlets that have been selling these drugs to ensure that they are no longer being sold. Shop owners must stop selling these products or they could pay a heavy price — in court. Or they could face seizure of their businesses and forfeiture of their assets.
Let's all work together to prevent our children from using these dangerous products. This is where it all begins — with education, legislative leadership and partnering with police and parents so together from Pikesville to Poolesville and everywhere in between we can prevent addiction, troubled behaviors or the tragedy of teens dying in Maryland.
John McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Montgomery County state's attorney. Tom Manger (MCPDChief@montgomerycountymd.gov) is Montgomery County police chief.