New law would make 'spice' illegal in Mo.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Although the use and sale of K2, a smokable altered herb, has only recently been observed in Missouri, its increased popularity on the Internet has some health officials and lawmakers concerned for the safety of the state's young people.

A bill making its way through the Missouri House of Representatives would make K2, also referred to as spice, a controlled substance in Missouri.

K2 is a nasty drug, according to Bob Welsh of the Missouri Safety Center. He said it can be found containing five or six chemical compounds to produce a high more powerful than cannabis.

"There have been at least three drivers arrested in Missouri in the last month who have reportedly been in possession of spice and who admitted using spice. The psychophysical impairment on their driving was profound," Welsh said. Still, when a toxicology test is ordered, the results come back negative for intoxicants such as marijuana or alcohol.

Sgt. Keith Glaser, Southeast Drug Task Force supervisor, said although he's not encountered the herb in Southeast Missouri, it may only be a short time before he does see it, because it is easily accessible on the web.

The bill's sponsor, Ward Franz, R-West Plains, said the growing use of K2 was first brought to his attention in November. Since then he's researched the product and has had numerous law enforcement officials and lawyers express their concern of its growth.

"It seems to be spreading like wildfire. So many of our children ... they feel it's something new and exciting they want to try and it's legal," Franz said.

Toxicology experts, the state highway patrol and numerous others have helped representatives craft the bill. Franz expects the bill to be assigned to a committee this week.

Welsh said, however, that legislators must be careful in drafting a bill so as to not allow any ways around the law if it were to pass.

"If you don't word the bill exactly right or correct in the terminology and the verbiage you might inadvertently leave a loophole," Welsh said. "We want this stuff locked out; no one should be able to purchase it, sell it or possess it."

Because spice or K2 is still legal and not labeled a controlled substance, no one that Welsh is aware of has tried to prosecute someone using the substance under Missouri law.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said if it isn't a controlled substance, a charge cannot be filed against someone admitting to using it. He could charge someone with driving while intoxicated by a drug, however, if an individual was caught using the substance and operating a motor vehicle.

"Under the DWI law, a person commits the DWI even if he is intoxicated on any legal drug," Swingle said. "We would need an expert witness familiar with the effects of drugs to educate the jury or the judge if it's a bench trial."

Although it's not illegal in the U.S., numerous military bases have banned its use by service men and women.

K2 was legal in the United Kingdom until December, when it became classified as a class B drug. The substance is also legal in Canada, although health experts are debating the subject.

If a bill passed in Missouri, it could take effect as early as Aug. 28.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

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