2013-04-04 / News

House passes bill banning bath salts, synthetic pot

The state House of Representatives last week approved legislation to ban the use, manufacture and sale of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones in Rhode Island.

Synthetic cannabinoids are designed to mimic the effects of marijuana and are better known by the brand names K2 and Spice. Synthetic cathinones are widely known at bath salts.

Proposed by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and sponsored by Reps. Joseph McNamara and Arthur Corvese, the bill would specifically add chemical classes of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones to the state’s schedule-I drug list. Schedule-I are regulated by the Department of Health because they are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

“Kids are using synthetic drugs and expecting to get high, but in reality they’re exposing themselves to a lot more damage,” said McNamara.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a recent report, cited 16 cases of serious kidney damage caused by synthetic marijuana products last year. All of them, ranging in age from 15 to 33, were admitted to hospitals and while none died, five required dialysis.

Unlike the substance they attempt to mimic, Spice and bath salts have been known to agitate some people to the point where they become violent or delirious. It has also been known to cause high blood pressure and even death.

The drugs can be found in convenience stores and gas stations, sold as herbal incense or potpourri.

In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law a federal ban on bath salts and synthetic cannabis, including altered chemical compounds that produce similar effects to those substances. Legal synthetic drugs differ from potpourri in home decor stores in the way it is packaged. Synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones are typically sold by the ounce or gram in small, attractive packaging. Retailers have also found ways to meet the demand for synthetic drugs by selling them with cigarettes and other smoking products, despite fine print labels warning consumers that the substance is not meant to be smoked.

“An emerging and alarming trend in our communities, especially among young people, is the use of synthetic drugs,” said Kilmartin. “The high produced by these substances has caused some users to become violent or delirious, resulting in heart failure and, in some cases, even death. While we have taken steps to outlaw versions of these drugs, manufacturers continually alter the chemical makeup of their products to circumvent the law. That is why we need to address the compounds used to produce these dangerous drugs and this legislation does just that. I am pleased the House passed this important legislation and look forward to working with the Senate on the companion legislation.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has reported that in 2010 there were nearly 3,000 calls to poison control centers around the nation for exposure to synthetic marijuana. That number climbed to nearly 7,000 in 2011. The number of calls in 2012 declined to about 5,200, largely because a number of states banned the sale and use of the chemicals.

The McNamara bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Stephen Archambault and is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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