JEFFERSON CITY — A widely available and legal drug that mimics the effects of marijuana could became illegal in Missouri through a bill considered Tuesday in the Legislature.
Bill sponsor Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, told the House Public Safety Committee that easy access to the drug, which is sold in smoke shops and on the Internet, means even children can purchase and use it legally.
His bill would ban possession of a synthetic compound that has similar effects on the brain as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The synthetic compound is found in a mixture of herbs sold as incense in some smoke shops around the state.
Possession of a controlled substance is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
“A 10-year-old child could walk into a head shop and buy it,” said West Plains Detective Shawn Rhoads.
Rhoads said the drug is sold just blocks from West Plains High School. He said police and school officials are worried about the health impacts.
“We don’t know much about it, so it’s going to end up killing somebody,” Rhoads said.
The drug was originally designed to study the effects of synthetic canniboids on the brain. It was developed in the mid-1990s by researchers at Clemson University. There has not been a study of drug’s effect on humans. In mice, it can lead to a lower body temperature, partial paralysis and the temporary inability to feel pain.
Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Joplin, voiced concern that the drug would still be available online, even if the state bans possession. Because the drug is not illegal in the U.S., it can be sent through the mail.
“You could still have it delivered to your home,” Flanigan said.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ethan Ahern said people use it as an alternative to marijuana.
“Everybody so far has told me it’s 10 times stronger than marijuana,” Ahern said.
Missouri State Troopers Association lobbyist Brad Thielemier said it affects communities across the state.
“It’s going to spread like wildfire, if it isn’t already,” Thielemier said.
A similar bill is moving through the Kansas Legislature. Several European countries, including Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, have banned the substance.