JUNEAU — Alaska legislators are considering a bill to ban synthetic substances that provide a high similar to marijuana after reports of people suffering adverse health effects from the products.
State Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said she introduced the legislation after hearing that a constituent’s son was hospitalized with heart-attack-like symptoms from inhaling one of the substances.
Cannabinoids are herbs mixed with chemicals, marketed under brand names like Spice or K2. Their legality means law enforcement can’t cite people for being under the influence of the substance in public or while driving, Muñoz said. That leaves law enforcement with options like reckless driving. There are also no restrictions on its sale.
The bill, currently under consideration by the Alaska House Judiciary Committee with eight bipartisan cosponsors, would classify nine different chemicals used to make synthetic cannabinoids as controlled substances, effectively banning them.
Synthetic cannabinoids have become popular with military members, prison employees and others who undergo regular drug screening due to the substance’s ability to avoid being detected, said Desiree Compton, project coordinator for the Mat-Su Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.
“These drugs are currently sold at local shops which increases access to the drug and sends the social message to young people that they are acceptable and not harmful,” Compton said in a letter to the state House of Representatives in support of the bill.
If the bill passes, Muñoz said Alaska will join 11 other states in restricting the products, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which last December issued a year-long ban of five of the chemicals that can be used to make synthetic cannabinoid, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
While some manufacturers had managed to get around the DEA ban by using different chemicals on the herbs, Kendra Kloster, Muñoz’s chief of staff, said the House bill should be inclusive enough to restrict all synthetic cannabinoids.