Spice dealers go underground

The drug – called spice, genie, K2 or ganja – is an incense sold in smoke shops and online to people older than 18. The incense packaging states the ingredients are rare plants, herbal extracts and botanical concentrates. When smoked it produces a marijuana-like high.


DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said the sale of spice had gone underground.

Spice — a form of synthetic marijuana — was the topic of a press conference DeKalb County District Attorney Mike O’Dell held in early May. O’Dell told the media 30 people in DeKalb County had developed kidney problems from the drug and some even required dialysis.

Since the May press conference, Harris said investigators have not received any more reports of sickness from the use of spice.

“We’re working some cases now,” Harris said. “But, there haven’t been any more reports to the sheriff’s office about people getting sick.”

Harris said the original reports that came in to his office were from parents. He didn’t exclude the possibility there were additional cases of people getting sick because the Privacy Act prohibits hospitals from directly reporting to police.

John Huffman, an organic chemist at Clemson University, developed the initial spice compound in the 1990s. He was doing an experiment to produce synthetic cannabinoids and came up with a compound he named JWH-018.

He published a paper on the compound in 1998 and wrote a chapter in a 2008 book detailing the compound. The drug became popular in Europe in 2008 and was eventually banned in Germany, France, Chile, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and the United Kingdom.

The drug eventually made its way to the United States. As of March 1, 2011, JWH-018 and four other cannabinoid compounds were made illegal in the U.S.. However, a wide variety of other synthetic marijuana compounds are still on the market. The compounds are fairly easy to make and can be altered to skirt federal law.

In early October, Gov. Robert Bentley signed an executive order that effectively outlawed synthetic marijuana in the state.

Bentley’s order came after Don Williamson, the state’s health officer, issued an emergency order making illegal the possession or sale of chemical compounds typically found in synthetic marijuana. The order included 24 additional substances that were added to the states Schedule I Controlled Substance List. The new law took effect Oct. 24.

“We haven’t had a bunch of calls about spice,” Harris said. “Everybody that we were trying to buy from has taken it off the shelves. We haven’t had an outpouring of calls about it. I’m not sure if they’re scared to sell it or waiting to see if it blows over before they try to move their product. The places that were selling to our undercover officers aren’t selling. The law has made them go underground.”

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