Opposition against synthetic drugs

Posted 3/14/11

The availability and possible dangers of synthetic drugs have hit home in the south metro area. On the heels of a federal crackdown and the …

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Opposition against synthetic drugs


The availability and possible dangers of synthetic drugs have hit home in the south metro area.

On the heels of a federal crackdown and the introduction of a bill in the state Legislature, Littleton officials are joining the effort to stop sales of the products.

Any business within the city caught selling synthetic marijuana, often known as Spice or K2, will risk losing its sales tax license.

Typically advertised as herbal incense, these products have been widely available on the Internet and in convenience stores and smoke shops across the nation. On March 1, the Drug Enforcement Administration added five “synthetic cannabinoids” to its list of illegal drugs.

These chemicals — which the DEA says are typically found laced on plant material — reportedly produce a high similar to marijuana when smoked. But they also come with potentially harmful side effects that have landed people in the emergency room.

A week after the DEA’s decision, Littleton’s city council voted to start immediate enforcement.

Douglas County officials have not indicated any plans to address enforcement.

While local police officers have no jurisdiction to arrest violators, Littleton officials determined there was another approach that could prove effective.

“No business in Littleton is allowed to sell anything contrary to state or federal law,” City Attorney Suzanne Staiert said.

Establishments caught doing so will, in the words of Mayor Doug Clark, “cease to exist.”

Three stores in Littleton were given notice to stop sales and others will be as they are discovered, officials said.

What’s the harm?

The packaging of fake pot often says, “Not for human consumption.”

By many accounts, that’s no more than an inside joke between manufacturer and consumer. But the consequences can be serious, officials say.

The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, based in Denver, received 44 calls related to synthetic marijuana last year. So far in 2011, they have been made aware of eight cases.

Mary Hilko, health educator for the poison control center, related that data at the Littleton city council’s March 8 special meeting.

“But the calls don’t indicate the extent of the problem,” she said. “It’s definitely a threat to public health.”

City Councilmember Debbie Brinkman said Littleton is a hub for sales and consumption of synthetic marijuana. Research done by the police department would seem to offer some support for that belief.

A student at Goddard Middle School was found in possession of K2, according to a memo sent to the city attorney from a Littleton police sergeant. The same document said a suicidal woman in Littleton ingested K2 and was transported to the hospital for medical and mental health evaluations.

Sgt. Cindy Mitchell’s research has found numerous signs and symptoms associated with use of the products. They include an elevated heart rate, vomiting, hallucinations, aggression and paranoia.

“It’s certainly not something anybody would want to find in their kid’s backpack,” Brinkman said.

The feds say manufacturers may indeed be targeting youths.

An excerpt found on the DEA’s section of the Department of Justice website:

“Research articles propose that the packaging is professional and conspicuous, targeting young people, possibly eager to use cannabis, but who are afraid of the judicial consequences and/or association with illicit drugs.”

As such, Littleton’s school district is taking a strong stand against the products.

Lucinda Hundley, an assistant superintendent for Littleton Public Schools, said the district is treating products like Spice the same as any other drug. For example, a student caught with the substance a second time will be expelled, she said.

State legislation

The DEA’s emergency order temporarily places the chemicals used in synthetic pot into Schedule I — alongside heroin, LSD and real marijuana — of the Controlled Substances Act. Over the next 12 months, federal officials will decide whether that ban should become permanent.

Several states have already banned synthetic marijuana and several others are working on legislation to do so.

Lawmakers in Colorado are hoping to get a bill passed that would ban the substances starting July 1.

Senate Bill 134 would add synthetic cannabinoids to the statutory list of illegal drugs. Offenses related to the substances could result in felony charges.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, of Jefferson County, is likely to be up for a vote soon in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

State Sen. Linda Newell, of Littleton, is a member of the committee, which recently heard testimony from law enforcement in support of the bill. She has expressed a strong desire to ban the substances.

“I feel we need to shut this down before any more children are harmed.”

The next problem

A newer product known as “bath salt” has been labeled a drug of concern by the DEA, but has not yet been outlawed, said Staiert, Littleton’s city attorney. It, she wrote in a memo to city council, is a white powder that is snorted or ingested, producing a stimulant effect similar to cocaine — but also is a hallucinogenic.

Hilko, of poison control, called the synthetic drug a more serious concern than fake marijuana. She said the center has received three bath salt calls this year, after getting none in 2010.

“That’s one nasty chemical,” she said.

But because it is not against federal or state law, there is no immediate way to stop sales.

Littleton’s city council has decided to have an ordinance drafted that, if passed, would ban synthetic drugs like bath salt as they hit the market.

“We want to see what we can do to stay ahead of the curve on this,” Councilmember Bruce Stahlman said.


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