JEFFERSON CITY — Several small business owners urged Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday not to ban synthetic marijuana, saying sales of the product have benefited their shops and the state.
The business owners were the first to speak against the proposed ban since lawmakers began working on the measure earlier this year. It would ban synthetic compounds that are sprayed on dried herbs and flowers and often sold as incense. The product, commonly known as K2, produces a marijuana-like high when smoked or inhaled.
The federal government hasn't regulated it, although it's banned in much of Europe. A law banning K2 went into effect in Kansas last month, and several Missouri counties and cities have banned it.
Police have urged state lawmakers to take action, and the bill's sponsor described it as a public safety issue. Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, pointed to increasing emergency room visits from people who say they smoked K2 and had odd reactions.
There have been few studies on how the compounds affect the human body, however, and those who sell it say there's not enough evidence to justify a ban.
"There is more evidence to ban saccharin, the diet thing, than this product," said Kevin Bay, owner of Bocomo Bay, a Columbia smoke shop.
Business owners said increasing sales of the product have led them to hire more employees, boosted revenue and generated more sales tax for the state.
Micah Riggs, owner of Coffee Wonk in Kansas City, said he has sold K2 in his coffee shop for more than a year and is renovating his shop with the extra income instead of borrowing from a bank. Riggs said his daily sales are now 12 times higher than before he sold K2 along with coffee and pastries.
"I'm paying a lot more sales tax now, which I think is a benefit to the state," he said.
The argument is similar to that for legalizing marijuana. Proponents say it would be better for the government to get tax revenue from marijuana sales instead of spending money to punish people who smoke it.
Franz's bill would add K2 to the state's list of illegal drugs and make possession a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. The House and Senate must agree on final language before the legislation can be sent to the governor. If he signed it, the law would become effective immediately.