Editorial: Watch out for synthetic pot

Published 9:16 am Monday, September 20, 2010

True or false? Across most of Minnesota, it’s perfectly legal for children to purchase a commercial product marketed as incense but containing substances that are up to 800 times more potent than marijuana.

As much as it will make parents groan, the answer is a resounding “true.”

Welcome to world of synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice, K2, Bayou Blaster, Spike Gold, Yucatan Fire, Gorby, Happy Shaman, Serenity, among other names.

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Made mostly in China and Korea, this is a mixture of herbs and spices resembling incense or potpourri and sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to marijuana. It’s sold in small envelopes labeled “not for consumption,” but when smoked it can produce a marijuana like high. And yes, it is being sold in St. Cloud as well as online.

Apparently, synthetic pot also does not show up on most drug tests. No wonder news reports in Minnesota and nationwide show that in the past year sales of synthetic pot are booming. Not surprisingly, so are health problems.

Minneapolis-based City Pages reported in July that for the year almost 700 medical incidents linked to synthetic pot had been recorded nationwide. That’s up from a total of 13 during all of 2009. News reports across the nation detail everything from users going into convulsions or even committing suicide.

Considering such issues and the easy, legal access for minors, it’s no wonder a handful of Minnesota cities are acting immediately to ban sales of these products. Princeton and Duluth approved measures last month. St. Cloud city officials said Tuesday they have heard nothing about proposals to ban it, although police did say they know it is being sold locally.

At least two state legislators have vowed to propose a statewide ban on its sale when the Legislature convenes in January. North Dakota and a handful of the states already ban it. Several more are in a position like Minnesota, not wanting to wait for the federal wheels of regulation to make it illegal to sell it over the counter.

A quicker course of action may be through the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which is examining whether to classify it as a Schedule I controlled substance — something with no known medical uses and not federally approved for use. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy took that action in July, effectively banning it statewide.

Given those efforts, it should be only a matter of months until synthetic pot is illegal in Minnesota. In the meantime, people — especially parents — should raise their eyebrows when they hear talk of burning incense or if they find some unfamiliar potpourri in the house.

— St. Cloud Times. Sept. 15