State lawmakers try to stop sale of synthetic drugs
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State lawmakers try to stop sale of synthetic drugs

Date: March 22, 2011
By: Alon Gilboa
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 641

Fake pot and fake cocaine are being sold legally around Missouri as lawmakers scramble to find a solution.
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Wrap: When University of Missouri student Mike Mahaffey first heard of K3, so called "fake pot", he was intrigued.

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Description: "I heard it was like marijuana and it was legal, so I thought why not."

The substance he describes is synthetic marijuana and is sold around the state as herbal incense.

A law passed last year in the Missouri legislature banned a similar substance that produces the high, called K2.

But store-owners quickly found a loophole.

Change several molecules around, and the result is a similar, legal alternative to the banned substance - what sellers now call K3.

Mahaffey says he only smoked it once, and the experience would be his last.

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Description: "I got a buzzed feeling and I felt kind of good, but it was hazy, like in a fog. It kind of gave me a headache."

A bill recently filed in the Missouri House attempts to expand on last years law.

It proposes to ban all chemicals that have a "marijuana-like" effect on the body.

The bill would also ban a more lethal synthetic drug sold around the state as bath salts.

But these aren't the type for your bathroom.

They are actually just a fine powder sold under the name of bath salts.

Republican Rep. Ward Franz from West Plains is the sponsor of the bill.

He says people using synthetic drugs could cause major problems for the state. 


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Description: "I firmly believe that these individuals using these products are going to cost the state a great deal of money if we don't ban this."
Smoke shops and convenience stores around the state currently sell the bath salts under various names, such as Purple Wave and Vanilla Sky.

Critics say the effects of bath salts are similar to cocaine or crystal meth.

Detective Frank Till of the St. Joseph Police Department.

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Description: "You snort them, just like you would meth or coke. They say 'not for human consumption' all over them, all the advertisements say 'not for human consumption'. Nobody is using these for bath salts, just like nobody is using K2 for incense."

But on the other side is Kevin Bay.

He is the owner of Bocomo Bay, a popular smoke shop in Columbia.

He says he would never sell the bath salts, but thinks the bill reaches too far in dealing with the sale of K3.

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Description: "It's bad for my business and other businesses like me. We're legitimate businesses."
The store sells its own brand called Bocomo Dew.
Employees are instructed to tell customers the product is not meant to get them high.

Another opponent to the bill is Columbia Attorney Dan Viets.

He defends people convicted of drug crimes throughout Missouri and says the answer to this problem isn't sending users to prison.

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Description: "Criminal prohibition should be a last resort and should never be used simply to protect people from themselves."
Viets says putting people in jail only ends up costing the state more money that could be used for schools, roads and bridges.
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Description: "Things like this bill, which are driven purely by politics, are the reason the prison population has increased. There's been no increase in crime, only an increase in the prison population."
More than twenty-one states have banned some form of synthetic marijuana and a growing number of states are attempting to ban the bath salts.
Even the federal government has gotten in on the act, looking for ways to limit the availability of these products.

Rep. Franz will continue fighting to pass the bill in Missouri.
He says its necessary above all else, because:

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Description: "People have died from this."

Reporting from Jefferson City, I'm Alon Gilboa.