Latest legal high could have deadly results
Kathy Bartosz, executive director of Partnership Carson City, was a woman on a mission Friday morning. Her task: Driving around town to liquor and convenience stores to purchase the latest high, touted as a legal alternative to marijuana – Spice.
While the packaging calls it an incense, that suggestion is laughable, said Alternative Sentencing Chief Rory Planeta.
“Who would pay $25 for a gram of potpourri,” he asked sitting before Bartosz’s bounty.
In all, Bartosz spent $413 Friday to get a sampling of the packages for presentations to schools and parents. Most of the Spice came in Ziploc-type metallic-colored bags with names like “The Moon,” “Route 69,” “Spike 666.” Others were in small round plastic containers similar to what lip gloss or loose eye shadow come in. One container, if the label were peeled off, could be mistaken for a Tic-Tac breath-mint box.
Few of the packages had website addresses. None listed a manufacturer. One called itself a plant growth regulator.
Yet, despite the varied appearances, all of the packages had a warning, “This product is NOT intended for human consumption.”
After Spice smoking was suspected in two deaths in Indiana this summer, it’s clear why.
The Federal Drug Administration has not tested it. Its manufacture is not regulated. The uncertainty of the “incense” has prompted officials in several European countries, U.S. states and the U.S. military to outlaw its sale and use.
Even the creator of the synthetic cannabinoid considers it
“It’s like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know what it’s going to do to you,” organic chemist John W. Huffman, who first created the compound in his lab at Clemson University in the 1990s in a study of cannabinoid receptors, said in a March interview with livescience.com.
Despite reports that the synthetic marijuana won’t show up on a drug test, a California laboratory – the same one used by Carson City Alternative Sentencing – says otherwise, said Sean Kobayashi, marketing director, Redwood Toxicology Laboratory.
After receiving numerous requests from their clients asking for a Spice drug test, the lab developed one, said Kobayashi.
“Based on research from looking at a number of these herbal incenses and Spices, we’re able to develop a very reliable and accurate test for the metabolite,” he said. “We are the only lab in the world that is doing this.”
Chief Planeta said his officers first started coming upon Spice at the beginning of the year, but in the past three months, reports have increased.
Before the officers understood it, if someone on probation was found to be using or possessing Spice, they were not arrested.
But after some research into existing Nevada law, Planeta found NRS 454.346, deems the use of any chemical, poison or organic compound to get high a misdemeanor.
He said Carson City judges are now ordering people on probation to not only stay away from alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription drug abuse, but also Spice.
And, so as not to catch anyone off guard, officers are informing probationers verbally as well posting signs at the Alternative Sentencing Office in the Court House.
“Spice and/or other synthetic THC (marijuana) is not allowed while on probation. It is considered a psychoactive drug. The FDA and DEA are currently attempting to make it an illegal substance,” one such posting states.
According to a presentation created by Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson, the following states have placed or are in the process of placing legal restrictions on the synthetic cannabinoid: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.
On March 24 the American Association of Poison Control Centers issued a warning about the dangers of synthetic marijuana stating the center received more than 1,000 calls since the first of the year, “causing increased concern among doctors and clinicians as well as state lawmakers, who are quickly moving to outlaw such products.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, Missouri comes in at the top. Missouri Poison Control Center Medical Director Anthony Scalzo said he received approximately 40 calls about the substance from November to March, a report states.
“Scalzo said the reactions being reported – including agitation, anxiety, an extremely fast, racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure – are the opposite of what would be expected from marijuana, which is a source of concern,” according to an American Association of Poison Control Centers statement.
Sheriff Ken Furlong said his office is looking to present a draft to city supervisors asking for an ordinance outlawing Spice and any other synthetic cannabinoid in the city limits.
But until that can be done, Bartosz and Undersheriff Steve Albertsen are preparing a letter to send out to vendors asking them to voluntarily stop selling the product.
Obi Mobaligh, owner of the County Store on Highway 50 East, would have been among those vendors contacted had he not heard on Friday from Bartosz’s visit that law enforcement was concerned about the increasing use among teens.
Mobaligh said he began selling Spice after several people came in and requested it.
After speaking with the Taxation Department, Department of Gaming and the Carson City Sheriff’s Office to confirm it was legal, Mobaligh started stocking the store.
In a recent burglary at his store in which four juvenile were arrested, all they took was Spice
“They got all my Spices,” said Mobaligh. “They did not go for the cash register.”
Upon learning Friday of the dangers possibly associated with Spice, Mobaligh, a father of a young son, immediately pulled it off the Country Store shelves.
“I don’t want to sell that stuff in my store anymore. In the beginning I didn’t know about it, but now I will feel guilty.
“Yes, It is legal. You can sell it, but now I know what they are using it for, and it’s harmful.”
Mobaligh said in these tough economic times he fears losing customers, but his concerns as a father are too great to continue.
“If it’s harmful to people then why are we carrying it? We should pull it out of the market completely,” he said.
Furlong drove to the Country Store on Friday afternoon to thank Mobaligh for yanking the product out of his convenience store.
“What he did was prove that it doesn’t always have to be about law enforcement. We can all work together and make this a great town. I am just so pleased with him,” said Furlong.
Other Carson City retailers contacted for this story declined comment.