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Synthetic drug ban clears hurdle

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill to ban all forms of synthetic marijuana and cocaine across the state cleared a key committee Thursday, advancing the measure to the full House of Delegates.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to endorse the bill, which would prohibit the sale and possession of currently legal versions of synthetic fake marijuana and cocaine.

The products, more commonly known as K2 and bath salts, have gained national attention over the past year because even though they are not marketed for consumption, many teenagers and young people smoke or inhale the substances as a legal means to get high.

The bill would add the artificial cannabinoids, hallucinogens and stimulants to the state's listing of Schedule I narcotics, making it a felony to possess or distribute any of the substances.

Dr. Michael O'Neil, chairman of the West Virginia Controlled Substances Advisory Board, told the committee it was important to ban these substances because their chemical makeup actually makes them more dangerous for use.

O'Neil said synthetic marijuana like K2 can have 15 to 30 times the potency of pot sold by drug dealers.  

Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, sponsored the bill in part because he was worried about how the products are being marketed to kids.

"The trouble with these products, these designer drugs, they get put into the market, nobody really knows what's in it, nobody knows what all of the side effects may be," Perdue said.

"All they know for sure is that they cause euphoria, but if in addition to euphoria you have the potential for death, you need to block that drug from the market."

Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, a co-sponsor of the bill, voted for it in the Judiciary Committee because she also has seen its impact on kids.

She compared the situation to the early days of the homemade methamphetamine crisis in the state. At that time lawmakers debated whether they should ban or restrict the sales of substances like cold medicines or Heet anti-freeze. She said the lengthy debate and delayed action helped to worsen the meth crisis. 

"At the end of the day, if we don't take care of stuff we can control, we will eventually have to pay for the damage that these chemicals do to the children," Poore said. "We have to take care of whatever criminal activities that are cause by the hallucinogens. We'll have to take care of that eventually and pay for it.

"If this is something we can control, we should, and we don't need to be playing around until this becomes a bigger situation."

The committee broadened the bill to include not just the synthetic marijuana, cocaine or other hallucinogens currently on the market, but also products that might be classified as analogs, derivatives or precursors under the guidelines of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Members said that was necessary to cover any future substances that may have similar chemical compositions and mind-altering affects but do not fit the chemical composition of the substances currently being sold.

The bill originally was to be considered by the House Health and Human Resources Committee as well, but leaders decided to forego that so the bill could be moved more swiftly to the full House.  

Staff writer Billy Wolfe contributed to this report.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com  or 304-348-5148.


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