JEFFERSON CITY — Columbia's state senator said in a hearing Monday that K2 has rapidly grown in popularity in mid-Missouri and has "a more potent effect than marijuana."
A bill, introduced by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a first-term Republican, would ban synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly known as "K2," among drugs like certain anesthetics.
K2 is a substance that, when smoked, is supposed to affect the user in a way similar to marijuana. He said it was troubling that a substance that can vary widely in effect and impairment has no regulation.
His Senate bill would classify cannabinoids as a Schedule I controlled substance, which would put it in the same category as marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy and other drugs that have been classified by the federal government as having "no currently accepted medical use."
Schaefer told the Senate Judiciary Committee that, in the past month or two, hospitals in mid-Missouri have reported multiple instances of adolescents entering emergency rooms complaining of negative effects after using K2.
"We don't need kids who are in their teens getting hurt by something that is just as bad as marijuana," Schaefer said. "We have people smoking this stuff and getting stoned and driving around. It can cause real problems."
He added that people might smoke it the way they do cigarettes, which would create the danger of people driving while high.
John Coffman, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, urged the committee to exercise caution in banning K2. He said the ACLU views marijuana as misclassified to begin with and added there hadn't been any scientific proof as to the potency of the K2 version.
"Let's take this issue carefully," he said. "I'm not sure we have any evidence as to exactly what is in this K2 substance and whether it is impairing enough to be dangerous."
Coffman added that driving while impaired is already a misdemeanor, and this bill would not change that.
"I'm pretty sure that I can already get a DWI if I drink a lot of cough syrup," he said.
Representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Services were ready to testify for informational purposes, but after being told they needed to take a stance either for or against the bill, they declined to speak.
Schaefer said he had called Gov. Jay Nixon's office seeking support for the bill and the governor's office had added additional substances to the bill, but the department had not been given the go-ahead to testify in favor. Schaefer said he was confused as to why the governor had not yet allowed his health department to speak in favor of the bill.
Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti declined to comment when he was reached Monday night.
A similar bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart. Schaefer said there are some differences between the two that need to be reconciled, but he thought it was safe to say that K2 is on its way out in Missouri almost as quickly as it arrived.
"I think this bill is pretty non-controversial," Schaefer said. "It's still pretty new to our area, but those that know about this know that it's a very serious problem."