Lawmakers move to ban fake marijuana, cocaine

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers are moving closer to snuffing out synthetic versions of cocaine and marijuana in West Virginia.

Both the House of Delegates and state Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed similar proposals (HB2505, SB63) to make it illegal to possess or distribute the drugs, often found in convenience stores and head shops.

Fake marijuana is sold under brand names including K2, Spice and Genie. It's marketed as incense or potpourri, but people smoke it to get high. Some users have experienced hallucinations, severe agitation, vomiting and convulsions.

Synthetic cocaine is sold as "bath salts" under brand names such as Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky.

Delegates crafted their bill so that it would encompass potential future variations of today's synthetic drugs, said one of the measure's sponsors, Delegate Meshea Poore.

"We put in chemicals that are not currently used, but could possibly be used in the future to circumvent the law," the Kanawha County Democrat said.

Poore had also sponsored an amendment earlier this week to clarify that violators would face misdemeanor -- rather than felony -- charges.

"We're not trying to hinder a person's life with a felony offense," she said.

The House and Senate will now exchange the two pieces of legislation.

The Senate version also adds the "party pill" BZP to the list of controlled substances.

Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, the bill's sponsor, said it goes another step further by allowing the state Board of Pharmacy to add drugs to the controlled substances list on an emergency basis when the Legislature is not in session.

Under current law, the board must wait until the Legislature convenes to submit any new drugs or substances it wants add to the controlled substances list.

Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, supported the proposal, noting that drug dealers and manufacturers are working constantly to come up with new variations of illicit drugs.

Many synthetic drugs are manufactured in Europe and Asia, said Mike O'Neil, a University of Charleston pharmacy professor and expert on drug diversion              

O'Neil said there is not much evidence that fake marijuana can stop someone's heart or breathing. But using it can have dangerous psychiatric effects, he said. People high on it have reportedly jumped out of windows and cut themselves with knives. 

Synthetic cocaine has amphetamine-like effects, O'Neil said. In high doses, it can potentially cause seizures and cardiovascular problems.

Huntington's city council has already banned synthetic cocaine and marijuana.

States across the country are moving to outlaw  "fake drugs." So far this year, 21 states have introduced legislation to ban synthetic marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

And last month, Florida's attorney general issued an emergency, temporary ban on the sale and possession of synthetic cocaine.

The House's measure passed 98-0, with Delegates Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; and Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, absent. It now heads to the Senate.

The Senate approved its bill 31-0, with Sens. John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell; Mike Green, D-Raleigh; and Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, absent. 

Staff writer Phil Kabler contributed to this report. Reach Alison Knezevich at or 304-348-1240.