SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) -- A central Missouri county is taking steps to become the first county in the state -- perhaps even in the nation -- to pass an ordinance prohibiting a legal mix of herbs.
Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Mittelhauser is pushing for an ordinance to prohibit the possession or sale of a synthetic marijuana commonly sold as K2.
"As far was we know, this will be the first ordinance of its kind in the state of Missouri," Presiding Commissioner Rusty Kahrs told the Sedalia Democrat.
Lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas also are considering banning the chemical substance, which is not regulated nationally. It is banned in most of Europe.
K2 is a mix of dried flowers, herbs and tobacco that is combined with synthetic cannabinoids. It is currently marketed as incense and sold at smoke shops and gas stations.
Pettis County Sheriff's Deputy John Cline said not much is known about the substance, but it does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
"It produces the same type of high as marijuana," Cline said.
The closest reports of K2 being sold have been in Columbia. The Sedalia Police Department knew of two places locally selling K2, but employees at both locations said they no longer sell it.
Sedalia Police Detective Joey McCullough said K2 comes in different flavors, including Summitt, Blonde and Citron, and has been in the area for about a year. Prices vary for the different types but can be as much as $35 for about three grams.
"They are smoking it just like marijuana," McCullough said, despite the label on bags of K2 that states: Not for consumption. Users roll it up in joints or inhale it from pipes, just like the real thing.
"Even if it's legal, this stuff is mind-altering," McCullough said.
Cline, who serves as a school resource officer, said K2 also is available to buy online, and he warns parents to be cautious.
"There are a lot of unknowns," Cline said. "If you see something strange or out of place, it probably is."
The long-term effects of the herb are still unknown. K2 is legal to possess, but the Missouri Legislature is looking at a bill which would outlaw the substance. Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, have filed legislation that would make K2 and similar substances illegal.
The bills would make possession a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison -- identical to punishments given to users of real marijuana. A similar bill in Kansas would make possession a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, also the same as marijuana convictions.
Dr. John Huffman, a Clemson University organic chemistry professor, was researching the effects of cannabinoids on the brain when his work resulted in a 1995 paper that contained the method and ingredients used to make the compound. That recipe found its way to marijuana users, who replicated Huffman's work.
There is no data on the drug's toxicity or how long it stays in the human body. In mice, it can lead to a lower body temperature, partial paralysis and the temporary inability to feel pain, according to the DEA.
Mittelhauser's proposed ordinance would immediately ban the sale of K2. If the state legislation is passed, the new state law would supersede a county ordinance, but any violation of the county ordinance may be prosecuted even after a state law is enacted.
Although it is legal, people caught operating a vehicle while under the influence of K2 can be charged with driving while impaired.
Since K2 does not contain natural THC, it is not detected through drug testing.
"Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right," McCullough said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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