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IC police make arrests for recently-outlawed synthetic pot

BY MATT STARNS | NOVEMBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City police are already making arrests on newly outlawed synthetic marijuana and state officials say it's important that these pot substitutes stay illegal.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration temporarily outlawed several key ingredients contained in products such as K2 and Spice — products marketed as incense which some buyers smoke.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said in each arrest for possession of a controlled substance, the drugs in question must be tested and verified as a controlled substance before charges can be brought.

She also said police can and do make arrests on the spot for possession of what appears to be a controlled substance.

"We just need probable cause," she said. "If the officer's not sure, they aren't going to charge; they're going to wait and get [the substance] tested."

DEA Special Agent Jeffrey Scott said the decision to classify these products as Schedule I controlled substances was a reaction to reports of dangerous effects caused by their use as cannabis alternatives.

"We had noticed over the past few years that those smokable herbal blends that had been marketed as a 'legal high' were being sold in the United States," he said. "We were starting to see anecdotal overdoses and other physical problems associated with ingesting these materials."

Scott said the fact that these synthetic materials were legal made them more dangerous.

"Because they were being marketed as legal, people were starting to realize that legal doesn't mean safe," he said.

Scott said this was part of what prompted the emergency classification of these chemicals as a controlled substance, an action he said is beneficial.

"The ability to emergency schedule these products allows us to take the time, to get things that clearly appear to be unsafe off the shelf, and evaluate them further before making a decision whether to permanently schedule them," he said.

The temporary ban on several of these synthetic cannabinoids — the active ingredients found in synthetic marijuana products such as K2 and Spice — went into effect March 1, making the possession of a product containing these chemicals a serious misdemeanor.

Scott said the ban will last for at least 12 months, but the administration can extend it for up to six additional months, "until a final determination can be made."

Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, said members of the Iowa Legislature were shocked when K2 was linked to the death of an Iowa teen last year.

"We were really surprised that could happen, so we went to work on that to make it against the law," he said, noting he felt the way in which these products are marketed was part of the problem.

"I had a feeling that a lot of kids thought of it like a candy or a toy," he said. "[The products] were being sold to kids as not habit-forming, not real drugs."

Courtney also said legislators need to be vigilant as new synthetic marijuana products become available.

"It's our job as legislators to constantly adapt to that and try to keep those doors closed as fast as they open," he said.


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