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Supervisors latest to OK synthetic marijuana ban

Lincoln County supervisors have killed the buzz for users of amarijuana knock-off substance called “spice,” voting Monday to banthe sale or possession of the quasi drug from inside thecounty.

The new ordinance passed unanimously, making possession of spice -also known as K2, Black Magic, Mr. Smiley and a host of othercolorful names – a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of$1,000 and up to six months in jail. Supervisors’ new lawcomplements a similar ban passed by Brookhaven aldermen last week,making all the many forms of synthetic pot illegal throughoutLincoln County.

“From what I’ve seen, once (ordinances) get passed, it comes offthe market,” said board attorney Bob Allen.

The county spice ban was approved to take effect immediately,though a pending legal question with the ordinance could delay itsenactment by one month. Allen told supervisors the dozen or socounties and municipalities statewide that have passed similar banshave used the 30-day rule, a grace period built in to make sure thelaws’ language doesn’t inadvertently ban other, legalsubstances.

“These things are being copied from state to state, and we havedifferent statutes,” he said. “I’ve asked (Lincoln County SheriffSteve Rushing) to call around and make sure what we’re makingillegal is the right thing.”

Allen placed a call to the Office of the Mississippi AttorneyGeneral early Monday to clarify the 30-day rule, but supervisorsadjourned without hearing a reply, leaving the new law to takeimmediate effect. It includes a termination clause that will removeit from the county’s books if the Legislature bans the substancestatewide.

Allen’s version of the ordinance also corrects oversights in otherspice documents passed between law-making bodies by allowing lawenforcement officers to confiscate spice when found. At the requestof District Two Supervisor Bobby Watts, the attorney said he’d lookinto the possibility of strengthening the law by amending it toprovide for the seizure of property from repeat offenders.

Other supervisors agreed with Watts’ recommendation.

“Put some teeth in it,” said District One Supervisor the Rev. JerryWilson. “Once we catch them once, we won’t have to worry about itno more.”

With the new laws from aldermen and supervisors, syntheticmarijuana will be quitting Lincoln County before it ever really gotstarted. Spice arrived in gas stations and convenience stores inthe city and county hardly one year ago, remaining under the radaruntil recently, when other locations around the state and nationbegan banning the substance.

Although spice’s local stay was short, its history is internationaland spans more than a decade.

When contacted, Mick Mollica, a counter-drug training consultantwith the U.S. Department of Defense, said synthetic marijuana firstappeared in Europe in the 1990s bearing the active ingredientHU-210, which was much stronger than marijuana’sTetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marketed and sold as incense, spiceproducts are printed with “not for human consumption” warnings onthe packaging.

The drug, which caused neurological problems in its users, becameimmensely popular overseas before being banned in several nations,Mollica said.

Since then, HU-210 has been outlawed as a Schedule One drug in theU.S. But the ban on the compound was bypassed in 1995 when aClemson University graduate student working under Dr. John Huffmanaltered its molecular structure and created JWH-018, an equallystrong THC-like formula. JWH-018 is the active ingredient intoday’s spice variants.

Mollica said the substance hasn’t gained popularity until recentlymainly because of poor quality control, with drug-makers turningout bad batches. But the problems with the concoction were ironedout, and spice usage has increased 10-fold over the last few years,he said.

And even though Lincoln County supervisors and other electedleaders around Mississippi are kicking synthetic marijuana out ofstores, it will likely land on the street, Mollica said.Ingredients are still available on the Internet and can be shippedto anywhere that hasn’t outlawed them – like Meridian, whereMollica held a training session Monday.

“For $100, I can make incredible amounts of money on this stuff,”he said. “I can go on the Internet and order it, have it shippedhere to Lauderdale County because it’s not illegal yet.”

Likewise, even with JWH-018 quickly being banned in many parts ofthe South, more replica drugs could follow, Mollica said.

“When they synthetically make a drug, all they’re doing is changingthe analog structure,” he said. “The best thing is to do an analoglaw. ‘Any other analog that mimics this,’ that kind of wording isvery important. The feds have an analog law – they could do itright now. But for some reason the (Drug Enforcement Agency) isbacking off.”

Regardless of what the Legislature does, local law enforcement willbe arresting those in possession of spice and other forms ofsynthetic marijuana.

“It’s starting to grow around here, so the sooner we get it off theshelves the better,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing. “Bythe time the Legislature gets back in session, every city andcounty will have a law.”