Tennessee lawmakers take aim again at synthetic marijuana

Tennessee lawmakers take aim again at synthetic marijuana

Updated:

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

HARRIMAN (WATE) - Synthetic marijuana, marketed as incense, was banned in Tennessee in 2010. However, manufacturers are going around the law by altering a chemical slightly, and making it legal again.

Now Tennessee lawmakers are trying to get synthetic marijuana off the shelves for good.

Synthetic marijuana is more powerful than marijuana, and sometimes it's effects are deadly.

Steven Hubbard, 21, says his friends have had bad reactions after smoking synthetic marijuana.

"They said that they started hallucinating and got them really sick off of it. I don't know if they went to the hospital. I just know they got sick and didn't like it after that," Hubbard said.

After trying synthetic marijuana, you could end up in a hospital. Health officials say the substance can cause effects from anxiety and vomiting to seizures and hallucinations, or even death.

Roane Medical Center officials say someone overdosed a few weeks ago with synthetic marijuana in their system.

Poison Control Centers across the nation report more than 5,500 calls relating to synthetic marijuana as of October 31. That's almost double the number of calls received in 2010.

State Rep. Julia Hurley (R-Lenoir City) says she received several calls from parents whose children have become ill after trying synthetic marijuana.

"We have children across the state of Tennessee dying every day from these illegal substances being manufactured by 16 to 19-year-old children not understanding the chemical compounds or the makeup or how it will affect the human body, so it's a huge issue," Hurley said.

Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton says his deputies are seeing the substance more now than ever and people experimenting with it are getting younger.

"We see more and more kids around the middle school age experiment with these types of drugs," Sheriff Stockton said.

The sheriff says the best way to combat the problem is to inform people of the danger and have a strong law banning the substance.

House Bill 2218 has been introduced in the Legislature. It would make any compound similar to any controlled substance illegal. Also substances that have an effect on the body similar to a controlled substance would be illegal.

The bill also adds that if the substance is not for human consumption, it would be legal as long as it's not packaged in a way to present potential for abuse.

So even though the synthetic substance may be sold as bath salts or incense, if it's packaged in a manner to present a potential for abuse it would be illegal.

If the bill passes, it would mean anyone caught possessing or selling the substance could end up behind bars.

"There will be penalties on all ends for manufacturers, distributors and buyers. If it were a 19 year old who would be purchasing this, it would fall under our new law as a felony charge," Hurley explained.

But legal or not, Steven Hubbard says after his friends' experiences with synthetic marijuana he won't touch it. "Anyone who tells me they are hallucinating from marijuana, that's not for me."

Rep. Hurley says if the bill becomes law, any store owner caught selling synthetic marijuana could have their beer licenses pulled. They could also lose the right to sell state lottery tickets.

She says she's confident the bill will pass. If it does, it's not clear when the new law would be enforced because additional time is needed to inform the community about it.

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