Texas lawmakers move to ban synthetic marijuana

By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas lawmakers announced Wednesday they hope to ban the production, sale and possession of six forms of synthetic marijuana in legislation they said would be the most comprehensive in the nation.

The legislation seeks to ban new chemical compounds that mimic tetrahydrocannabinl, or THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana. Chemists spray the chemicals on herbs and then sell them under a variety of brand names to be burned as incense or smoked. There are hundreds of different chemical formulations that attach to chemical receptors in the brain and intoxicate people like marijuana, and many early forms are already banned.

The proposed Texas laws would make the production, sale or possession of synthetic marijuana a felony, and place it in the same class as ecstasy and methamphetamines — making the punishment more severe than possession of regular marijuana.

Plano Republicans Sen. Florence Shapiro and Rep. Jerry Madden introduced legislation to ban six currently unregulated sub-classes of the compounds that make up most of the products currently sold across the state.

"The most important thing is that it's unregulated. We don't know what the health effects are of this," Shapiro said. "There are street chemists, as we've come to call them, who are mixing these compounds and selling them."

Shapiro said the scientifically complex bill would be the most comprehensive in the nation. Sixteen other states have already banned some forms of synthetic marijuana, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is developing federal legislation to be introduced this year.

Researchers developed synthetic cannabinoids, as scientists refer to the compounds, to test the effects of THC on mice as early as the 1970s. In recent years, though, producers have developed new compounds and sold them in tobacco shops, gas stations and online. The drugs have become popular with teens, particularly in North Texas.

Dr. Collin Kane, a pediatric cardiologist at Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said he has treated three teenagers for heart attacks caused by synthetic marijuana, often referred to by the dominant brand K2.

"Until a few months ago, I'd never heard of K2," Kane told a Capitol press conference. "When a few teenagers came to our emergency room and were admitted with heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, and it was only after a lot questions that they admitted they had taken something like K2."