It is an herbal mixture product that offers the same high as marijuana. It’s known by many names — K2, Spice, Demon, Voodoo, Genie, Zohai for starters — and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics wants it off the streets.
About a dozen Mississippi cities and counties have taken local steps to ban the sale of the synthetic marijuana.
Generally, the local ordinances are misdemeanors and make it illegal to buy, sell, possess or distribute the herbal mixtures or any similar substances and the maximum penalties are generally a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Authorities say making possession or distribution a crime, even a misdemeanor, goes a long way to informing the public that the product is dangerous.
Biloxi Police Chief John Miller, whose city has enacted a ban, says his officers bought small packages of synthetic marijuana at several stores, paying between $25 and $45 for an ounce.
Such availability, says MBN executive director Marshall Fisher, should raise concern among state officials.
“I think it is dangerous,” said Fisher, a former federal Drug Enforcement Administration officer. “It’s obviously a problem. We’ve been hearing from parents and local officials have come to us with complaints about it.
“It’s not for human consumption, but it is marketed as a legal weed.”
Fisher said the MBN will ask lawmakers in January to make K2 — or whatever name it is called — a Schedule One drug with penalties on par with those for the sale and possession of marijuana.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in May signed a law banning the substance. Alabama and Arkansas also have bans. The issue has been addressed — or is pending — in dozens of other states.
The K2 mimics the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient in pot. However, it’s not going to show up in drug tests as marijuana.
State Sen. Sid Albritton, a Republican from Picayune, says legislative staff is determining if the ingredients used in the synthetic marijuana already fall under Mississippi’s Controlled Substance Law.
If so, Albritton, chairman of the Senate Drug Policy Committee, said law enforcement agencies would have all the authority they need to make arrests and prosecute cases.
“We are working on options that would bring this substance under the law,” he said. “It is a public health issue and we want to get it outlawed and off the streets. We also want to make sure there is not a possibility that we can’t prosecute (these cases).”
Marijuana falls under the list of Schedule One illegal drugs in state law.
Under the law, for example, a first offender convicted of possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, may be sentenced to not more than three years or fined not more than $3,000 or both. Penalties for larger amounts of the drug run from 20 to 30 years in prison with fines ranging from $5,000 to $1 million.
Regardless how state officials decide to address the fake marijuana issue, Fisher and Albritton, a former narcotics agent, said authorities are in a foot race with science.
“It’s something that wasn’t on our radar,” Fisher said. “I am not saying it wasn’t there a year ago. We are always a little bit behind the curve on this stuff.
“The people who profit from this don’t care what it does to the victims. They care about profit and they’ll reformulate it and put it out as something else,” he said.
Albritton said designer narcotics are by nature evolutionary substances.
“There is a lot of money in these things. The manufacturers have learned to get around the law. People are almost always going to try to get around the law searching for some new way and method to get high.
“That doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel,” Albritton said. “We’ve got to try to keep up.”
Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press