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Alaska legislation would ban smoke-shop 'incense' OTC drugs K2, Spice

Eric Christopher Adams

The Alaska Legislature is considering legislation that would ban over-the-counter drugs called synthetic cannabinoids that induce psychoactive or hallucinogenic effects similar to those caused by pure THC, which comes from the cannabis plant, or by mescaline, which comes from the peyote cactus.

Cannabis is one of "the most widely used illicit substances in the world," according to the United Nations, but at-home use was decriminalized to an extent here in Alaska back in 1978.

Rep. Cathy Muńoz, a Juneau Republican, told the Juneau Empire that she introduced the legislation "after speaking to someone who was hospitalized with heart attack-like symptoms from ingesting a cannabinoid product." The products she refers to are sold under brands like K2 or Spice.

K2 and Spice are manufactured and branded as incense but advertised as drugs that "get you high" without the fear of actually breaking any laws. They look like marijuana but are not; essentially these leafy products are sprayed with various chemicals currently unclassified by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. They don't even show up on certain drug tests and some Alaska cities have found it difficult to prosecute cannabinoid users who've smoked K2 or Spice and then gotten behind the wheel, according to Kendra Kloster, the chief of staff for Rep. Muńoz.

Spice and K2 have been targeted by prosecutors for the Municipality of Anchorage but remain on sale around town and over the Internet. Side effects reported by Alaskans include the "loss of reality," "hallucinations" and "the inability to walk and talk," Kloster said, adding that a Juneau constituent was admitted to the hospital after using Spice or K2 and having "severe reactions."

"These drugs are smoked to get you high, though. People are using these chemicals because they're easily accessible. It's not marijuana. It has nothing to do with marijuana. It's purely chemicals. It's a bunch of chemicals," Kloster said.

The Muńoz legislation would criminalize cannabinoids as Schedule Iia controlled substances in Alaska. Prosecutors and scientists consulted on the legislation concluded that cannabinoids are best classified as hallucinogens. K2 and Spice would be illegal to sell.

Driving under the influence of one or either of these substances would definitely land you in jail. They would be in the same category as cocaine, LSD or peyote, Kloster said.

A number of other lawmakers have stepped forward to cosponsor the legislation, including House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage. The Juneau delegation reports no opposition to the legislation, to its knowledge.

Cannabinoids are currently criminalized in nine other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan and Tennessee.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com