Lt. Jeff Hein, commander of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit, describes law enforcement’s continuous war on drugs as “a strategic game of chess, not checkers.”
Synthetic marijuana, he says, is yet another piece on the drug war chess board; only this piece keeps changing.
Hein explained makers of synthetic marijuana often reformulate the fake cannabis so the new chemicals they use will be considered legal. On March 1, 2011, the DEA categorized five chemicals used in spice as Schedule I drugs, he said. Schedule I drugs are classified as substances which are highly addictive and serve no medical purpose. Heroine and ecstasy are Schedule I drugs, he said.
“It’s a big problem,” Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes said.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as spice, bliss, genie, black mamba, Bombay blue, fake weed or zohai, is sold in small, silvery plastic bags of dried leaves and marketed as incense that can be smoked, according to Hein. These herbal incense products contain one or more synthetic cannabinoid compound and naturally occurring herbs, flowers and related extracts that have psychoactive, hallucinogenic or sedative effects, he said.
Someone who uses fake cannabis may not have a bad reaction using it the first time, or even the the sheriff said. Now, synthetic marijuana has apparently gone underground here, Sikes said.
Hein added if fake cannabis is seen in local stores, it is not being “overtly” displayed.
In Liberty County, synthetic marijuana tends to be sold covertly by individuals who have brought the substance here from other communities, like Brunswick, or from out of state, according to Hein.
Sikes said drugs have long been trafficked up and down I-95, and have been transported along state highways 84 and 17.
In his monthly legislative update, State Sen. Buddy Carter referred to several incidents in Brunswick where a total of 12 people became seriously ill after smoking herbal incense. Carter’s column ran in Wednesday’s Courier.
“Of these (herbal incense users), 11 were hospitalized with many ending up in ICU and at least one on life support,” Carter wrote.
The Glynn County Police Department emailed their counterparts at the LCSO about the Brunswick incident, and listed several synthetic marijuana products that were sent to the crime lab to be tested. In addition to Crazy Clown, 20-x Premium Blend, xXx, Black Lion and Shamrock would be tested for illegal chemical compounds, according to the email.
Carter, who is also a pharmacist, said he is following up on the Brunswick incident.
“We’re waiting on lab results from the GBI to see what exactly we’re dealing with. If this is a new substance they’ve identified in the past or if it is a new one,” he said.
Hein said it can take six to eight weeks for the GBI lab to release results when testing synthetic marijuana.
Carter said he and his fellow lawmakers are also studying legislation proposed in Illinois and North Carolina that takes a different approach to dealing with synthetic marijuana.
“They’re proposing putting more requirements on the labeling of these types of products,” he said.
Hein said herbal incense is clearly marked “not for human consumption.” He said people often find ways to abuse all kinds of substances, natural and artificial, in search of a high.
The narcotics unit commander said testing individuals for fake cannabis can also be a challenge, because many drug screens don’t test for spice. Parolees are typically tested for organic marijuana, cocaine, opiates and methamphetamines, Hein said.
Sikes and Hein urge residents to contact the LCSO if they see any of these products being sold.
The sheriff said his department is committed to educational outreach, to alert citizens to the dangers of synthetic marijuana.
Hein said he is open to speaking to any group, and has made presentations to schools, churches and other organizations.
For more information, call Hein at 877-4040.