Synthetic cannabis still exists despite Iowa ban

BY LUKE VOELZ | JULY 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jake Missen watched the world become 2D.

The University of Iowa junior had just taken a hit of pure JWH-018, the chemical compound present in the synthetic-cannabis drug K2. Later calling it “the worst thing I experienced,” the 21-year-old first tried the powder after K2 became temporarily illegal last July.

“I started to feel extremely panicked,” he said. “The world became like a dot painting and starting moving, like there was something on the other side — someone trying to break through reality.”

Though legislation banning the sale and possession of K2 and other synthetic cannabinoids passed on June 30 as part of the new state budget bill, manufacturers can still make minor chemical alterations and market the blend as a different substance — such as K3 and Syn.

While Gov. Terry Branstad has roughly 30 days to sign the bill, lawmakers said they’re worried about additional synthetic compounds that will likely arise, making further regulation necessary.

“We had a terrible time trying to come up with a law broad enough to cover everything that might come up, yet narrow enough to not punish too many people for smaller infractions,” said Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington. “Once this was passed, we knew someone would come up with something that doesn’t fit the law. That’s what we had in mind, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Some Iowa City shops sell K2 alternatives. The Den, 123 E. Washington St, offers Syn as an herbal incense. The In Zone, 116 E. Washington St., has also sold K2 alternatives in the past.

K2 and similar blends are typically marketed as “herbal incense,” with labels warning the compounds are for incense use only.

Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, said he’s confident in the government’s ability to stop the manufacture of alternate forms of K2.

“We think we have our bill written so it includes anything those sick sons of guns can think up,” he said. “If we don’t, we’ll address it immediately.”

The state government should continue to regulate new forms of K2, said Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant.

“If they change them, I’ll go after that,” he said. “We’re looking at purposeful mind-alteration, and it just drives me crazy.”

Yet Missen, who stopped using synthetic drugs after his experience on JWH-018, said further legislation is only going to drive up black-market demand for similar substances.

“When they made K2 and [K2 form] Zero Gravity illegal, they put all these chemists out of business,” he said. “They’re not illegal to create, so they’re going to find loopholes to make the money — that’s the world that it is. It only makes sense, now that we’re selling marijuana-crack on the market.”

But some shops have avoided sales due to K2’s tenuous legal status and lack of production regulation.

“We don’t know who’s making it,” said the Konnexion owner Kelly Stucker. “They could be spraying it down in a goddamn garage — there are no regulations.”

Stucker said the Konnexion began receiving floods of offers — as many as 10 in a single day — to sell K2-alternatives as the blends grew more popular from media exposure.

“Everyone’s trying to make quick money, so they’re just trying to flood the market with herbal incense,” she said. “But we don’t know if it’ll be illegal in the next two weeks, so we don’t want to bother.”

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