City Attorney Larry Kissee explained the issue with the chemically treatedcompound, that looks like potpourri and was supposedly created as incense. It is being widely used as a synthetic form of marijuana. He said the county began contacting surrounding agencies regarding the way they were addressing the issue, before drafting a ordinance for Sharp County.
K-2, Spice, Genie or Zohai are common brands the substance is sold under, including locally at a health food store in Highland. The compound has been shown to cause severe hallucinogenic reactions, unlike that of marijuana which creates a calming effect. The substance which is a lab created compound was made to mimic THC, the chemical in marijuana. Until May 9, the compound could be purchased very easily and its effects vary with weight, age and user. It has been shown to significantly impair users, with results in many cases much greater than the effects of THC.
Many who have smoked the substance say the high created from smoking the herbal mixture is much stronger than that of marijuana. There have been numerous incidents in schools regarding the use of the substance. Some of the results include a local rollover accident which sent the driver to the hospital in critical condition after law enforcement recovered several packages of K2 from the vehicle. A student at an area high school was reported by school officials to have had fits of rage and running from the building. Students questioned told law enforcement the student had recently smoked K2. Schools all maintain that any offense with either drugs or anything that alters a student in a similar manner will be treated as drug offenses.
The dangerous chemical is produced in both China and Korea. It was first created in the lab after studying the chemical makeup of THC, the key ingredient in marijuana which produces the high. Herbs are sprayed with a chemical during their growth process. The chemical, may or may not increase in strength after packaging or take on other chemical factors that have yet to be studied. K2 has also been banned in Europe, as well as in the military, and is not regulated in the United States. David Eichhorn,Witchita State University chemist, analysed samples of the compound and said, "One of the ingredients in there is one that could potentially get across the blood/brain barrier and the reality is, if you play around with these types of compounds, you run the risk of seriously upsetting the balance of the brain." Other issues include the fact that there is no quality control for the product in the United States and it is impossible to determine the origin of the chemicals, and the manner in which they were processed. Although the strength of the chemical compound varies with brand, there is not doubt the danger these substances pose to area youth. The packaging is very similar in nature to any other energy type product and parents may not even be aware that their child or teen is using this product if it were in plain sight. So as parents, a heightened sense of awareness is a good way to combat usage of a substance many know little about.
During the public comments portion of the quorum court meeting, prior to passing the ordinance, local store owner Robin Baker spoke to the court. He first blamed the media for their coverage on K2 related incidents and then blamed parents. Baker, said, "The parents just need to do their job." He then went through naming several chemical compounds in his attempt to keep the court from passing the ordinance. Baker maintained not only that K2 is comprised of herbs, but that it is not harmful, and there has been no testing on the compound. He also took a poll prior to the meeting gathering signatures of "over 30 adult registered voters," who he said felt it shouldn't be banned. Baker said, "These people have a choice what they want to ingest." He explained the compound wasn't meant to be smoked.
Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver posed a few questions of Baker, asking him who his business sells the compound to, he replied, "Adults." When Weaver asked what age, he told him eighteen. The sheriff then asked him the reason for selling the substance only to adults, which Baker replied, "because of smoking laws." At which time, Weaver took the opportunity to quote Baker's previous statement regarding that it wasn't designed to be smoked.
Tammy Curtis, a reporter with the Villager Journal, asked to be heard and defended and clarified previous stories written about the substance that were referenced by Baker. All the articles, were all derived from book research and several interviews with admitted K2 users, as well as law enforcement personnel, emergency workers and Internet research.
Justice Burton explained to Baker that 15 years ago, there was no research to indicate smoking marijuana posed health hazards, now there is medical proof it causes birth defects, among other things. Burton said, "We do not want to wait another 15 years to see the long term results of this." The court voted unanimously to be proactive in passing the emergency ordinance, which after three readings was put into effect immediately.
Ordinance 2010-5 is defined as "An ordinance prohibiting the purchase, possession, sale, and offering for sale the synthetic cannaboid known as "Spice" or "K2." The ordinance states that although it is not yet categorized as an illegal controlled substance under either state or federal law that the usage of one of these marijuana substitutes, regardless of the name, poses a serious health threat. The ordinance goes on to define the chemical name of the substances included making it unlawful for anyone to, "possess, purchase, attempt to purchase, sell, publicly display for sale or attempt to sell, give or barter the substances. It further outlines the specified punishment and fines related to the offenses. The fine of not more than $1,000 will be imposed for a first offense violation of the ordinance and be found guilty of a misdemeanor and up to double the fine for each repeat offense.
The ordinance will be void if the Arkansas General Assembly adopts a code provision that enacts a similar law. At the time of passage the ordinance would then be superceded by the county ordinance. If a person offends the ordinance prior to the passage of a state law, they may be prosecuted after the effective date of the state statute.