2013-07-01 / Front Page

Synthetic drugs have officials scrambling to stay ahead

By TIM GULLA
Ledger Staff Writer

A new law goes into effect Monday in neighboring North Carolina that seeks to get ahead of synthetic drug makers.

Dubbed the “Ban Synthetic Cannabinoids” bill, North Carolina’s law seeks to get a handle on the ever-changing narcotic ingredients cropping up in synthetic marijuana by using “catch all” language.

Rather than try and list the name of every intoxicating or hallucinogenic chemical showing up in fake pot often marketed as incense, the North Carolina legislation simply bans “any quantity of any synthetic chemical compound” that mimics the pharmacological effect of naturally occurring substances like marijuana.

A similar bill was proposed in the South Carolina Senate during the last legislative term, but it did not advance. Efforts to enact other synthetic cannabinoid related legislation, such as a bill to expand South Carolina’s list of scheduled drugs by mirroring both federal schedules and bans enacted by adjacent states, also did not advance before the current session expired.

Given the changing landscape, however, its likely that the issue isn’t dead in South Carolina as more and more states consider similar proposals.

Synthetic marijuana was touted as a legal alternative to marijuana and routinely sold over the counter at convenience stores and smoke shops. A raft of health- and crime-related problems associated with the drugs, as well as increased usage by children, however, prompted many local communities to take action on their own. In 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration added five chemicals commonly found in synthetic marijuana to the Schedule 1 list of controlled drugs. Those chemicals came with names like JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP- 47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol.

Makers of the synthetic drugs, however, apparently responded to the DEA’s chemical roadblock by simply changing the labmade chemicals to something else that wasn’t yet placed on the official banned list — a development foreseen by many local law enforcement officers.

Last week, two Gaffney residents were ensnared in a sweeping, nationwide federal investigation of synthetic drug sales. Federal authorities seized $800,000 from a Grassy Pond home and $600,000 from bank accounts as part of the local probe. The allegedly illegal synthetic drugs at the heart of the local investigation, according to information provided by the U.S. Attorneys office, were the chemical compounds UR-144 and XLR-11. Those two chemicals were added by the DEA to the list of controlled drugs, if only on a temporary basis for now, on May 16.

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