House backs ban on ‘synthetic marijuana’

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It’s sold as herbal incense, it’s smoked like marijuana and it has caught the ire of state lawmakers.

The Louisiana House on Tuesday backed a ban of the product that goes by names like “K2,” “Voodoo,” “FIYA” and “Spice.” The mixture of herbs and spices is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and it’s commonly sold in head shops and convenience stores.

Police officers say people roll it up in joints or inhale it from pipes, just like marijuana – and get similar effects.

Approved 102-0, a measure by Rep. Ricky Templet, R-Terrytown, would prohibit the manufacturing, sale or possession of the combination of herbs, spices and synthetic ingredients.

Supporters argued if the product creates the same high as marijuana, it should be illegal like marijuana.

“They need to sell other incense and candles that don’t intoxicate people,” said Rep. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central.

Packages bear the warning: “not for human consumption.” But Templet said teenagers know it’s a sort of “synthetic marijuana” and are getting high from it.

Templet and other backers of a ban of the mixture of herbs and synthetic ingredients offered only anecdotal complaints from police and parents, but no studies of the effects of the product.

Other states are considering bans. A bill similar to Templet’s also is advancing in the state Senate, gaining approval Tuesday from a Senate judiciary committee.

Sen. Nick Gautreaux, D-Meaux, who is sponsoring one of the measures, said parents and police officers report teenagers with hallucinations, seizures and vomiting from smoking the substance.

Lobbyist Charlie Smith suggested lawmakers should consider prohibiting sales to anyone under age 21. He also argued the ban would only add more people to the state’s large prison population, increasing state corrections costs.

Templet’s bill would carry a prison sentence of up to five years for anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute the herb and synthetic mixture. Possession would carry a penalty of up to six months in jail.