Kevin Landrigan: Ban on synthetic drugs looks to be on fast track at NH State House
Every week last summer, they seemed to have a new name and a new chemical wrinkle: Spice, potpourri, K2, Smacked.
They all had one thing in common: legal products sold in smoke shops, even convenience stores that caused many to overdose, some to die.
Last August, Gov. Maggie Hassan decided the problem was so severe that she took the unusual move of declaring the rampant overdoses had put New Hampshire into a state of emergency.
This allowed state and local law enforcement to quarantine the products already on store shelves and to curb the sale.
Several communities moved on their own to pass ordinances.
In the meantime, Hassan named a special commission to come up with a more permanent solution.
The first recommendation came before a state Senate committee Wednesday to ban the sale of synthetic drugs.
Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, authored the bill after having chaired the study.
But she had plenty of company; in fact, 13 other state senators agreed to sign onto the bill.
This guarantees the measure passes the Senate since it has only 24 members. Immediately after today's hearing, the Senate panel endorses the bill unanimously.
Kelly said slick marketing of these products as harmless amusements have been key to their success.
"Synthetic drugs, as you know have been sold over the counter in these pretty, color packets," Kelly said. "They are these cute, little packets with misrepresented labels on them. I think you have heard of many called smack, potpourri, spice, k2 and they have been marketed incorrectly as synthetic marijuana."
These products have morphed so often into different ones that it takes 11 pages to describe all synthetic drugs covered under the ban.
Attorney General Joe Foster said the problem of abusing drugs - illegal or obtained over the counter - is enormous.
"I want to briefly talk about our drug problem in New Hampshire if I may," Foster said. "In my estimation, it is our largest public health problem. It not only affects law enforcement, it affects all of us, our neighborhoods, our schools, our health care system, our prisons, our first responders, our businesses and our highways."
The substance comes in packets that contain plant materials coated with dangerous psychoactive compounds that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, according to federal authorities. Side effects of its use include vomiting, elevated heartbeat and blood pressure, pale complexion, sweating, slurred speech, anxiety and potentially aggressive behavior.
In 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control five chemicals used in making "fake pot" products, making them illegal to possess and sell.
New Hampshire passed a law banning the substances that went into effect in August.
But state law enforcement officials say synthetic marijuana still is being sold in many convenience stores, and many people think it is still legal. The makers of the substance have also varied the ingredients, avoiding those specified by the DEA's ruling and making it harder for authorities to stop.