This legislative session has already seen the arrival of proposals to tweak the state's medical marijuana regulations and establish THC driving limits. It's no surprise, then, that HB 134, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, has been described as a ban of synthetic marijuana. But while the measure refers to a substance known as Spice or K2 as "synthetic cannabinoids," Kopp feels the "synthetic marijuana" term is "a misnomer of the highest order."
Kopp, who oversaw testimony about HB 134 last week, regrets that some advocates see his attempt to prohibit Spice, as well as a hallucinogen called salvia, as a stealth attack on MMJ. "It's unfounded," he says. "I'm not going to call it 'paranoia,' because I understand where they're coming from. That's one of the reasons why I didn't want it to be in the [medical marijuana] statute. We go out of our way in the bill itself to indicate this has no bearing on our medical marijuana statutes" -- hence, a line in the summary that reads, "Synthetic cannabinoids shall not be considered medical marijuana under Colorado law."
Spice "behaves substantially differently in a person's brain" than does marijuana, Kopp goes on, "and it absolutely should be seen as a controlled substance. There's a charade that has taken place, and frankly, it's a pretty dangerous one, where Spice is sold as incense. But it's sprayed with any of five different kinds of chemicals. The odd thing is, none of these chemicals add any odor whatsoever. The only thing they do is serve to produce a high that has landed kids in the hospital with violent hallucinations."
Legislators in at least eighteen states have reportedly prohibited Spice -- click to read about Kansas' efforts to ban the substance last year, courtesy of Pitch, our sister publication in Kansas City. Moreover, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a ban on March 1 -- but as Kopp notes, the DEA action expires in a year.
"It's a temporary rule to do much more extensive clinical research than has been done so far," he continues. "But that's not to say there's no evidence what this drug is capable of doing. In fact, one of the police officers who came in and testified is something like six-five, and he said, 'A big guy like me is having trouble with teenagers on this stuff. They think I'm attacking them, and I can hardly contain them.' And even the Clemson professor who invented it" -- John Huffman -- "says it wasn't meant for human consumption, and you'd have to be an idiot to take it. He says if you take it, you're playing Russian roulette.
"Opponents want to suggest that because there aren't widespread clinical trials and papers published, we should ignore the problem. And I think that's irresponsible. We have enough evidence to understand what is happening to people who take this substance, and we know there are no medical benefits, it's prone to abuse, and it's been seized with other Schedule 1 narcotics. That's why the DEA's position is, 'We're not going to sit back and watch as this takes off and becomes a bigger problem in the U.S., like it's become in Europe. They're generally more lenient with their drug laws in Europe than we are here, but even they've acted pretty swiftly about this."
He's hoping Colorado's legislators do likewise, despite suggestion by opponents that the legislation is a prime example of Nanny State action typically derided by conservatives.
"Some people have tried to equate this to other types of government do-goodery that I find really objectionable, like limiting salt intake and fatty foods and soda in schools," he acknowledges. "But are we seriously suggesting that something so damaging, something with absolutely no medical benefits, and something that's causing fits of rage and kids to go to the hospital, is the same kind of thing? These are two totally different conversations."
No action was taken after last week's hearing, in part because a couple of committee members who Kopp describes as "committed votes on the bill" were gone that day. But when it returns to the judiciary committee, "I believe it'll pass," he goes on. "I'll probably work on an amendment regarding possession for minors -- I'm going to look at the penalties there. But I feel confident about it, because the testimony was very compelling."
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Rob Corry thinks THC driving limits may violate constitution, disabilities act."