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House Approves Ban on Synthetic Pot

The bill was introduced by Rep. Joseph McNamara of Cranston.

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

Proposed by Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Rep. Arthur J. Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence), the bill would specifically add chemical classes of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones to the state’s Schedule I drug list. Items on Schedule I are regulated by the Department of Health because they are considered to have a high potential for abuse and/or no accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.

“Kids are using synthetic drugs and expecting to get high, but in reality they’re exposing themselves to a lot more damage,” said Representative McNamara, Chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.

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, synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones have been known to agitate some people to the point where they become violent or delirious. It has also been know to cause high blood pressure, vomiting, serious health complications and even death.

Synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones are known by several aliases, including “K2,” “Spice,” “Monkey Weed” and “Bath Salts,” and can be found in convenience stores and gas stations, sold as herbal incense, potpourri or botanical sachet.

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 décor stores in the way it is packaged. Synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones are typically sold by the ounce or gram in small, often 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.

“This is an all too easily accessible substance that can have serious consequences for the mental and physical health of our young people,” said Representative McNamara. “These synthetic substances represent a new frontier of substance abuse.”

 “An emerging and alarming trend in our communities, especially among young people, is the use of synthetic drugs. 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,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “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, 2013-H 5325 Substitute A, now goes to the Senate for consideration. An identical bill, 2013-S 0454, has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston) and is before the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

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