JEFFERSON CITY — State lawmakers have given final approval to legislation that would make Missouri the second state to ban synthetic compounds that mimic the effects of marijuana.
The legislation sent Thursday night to Gov. Jay Nixon would subject people who possess the synthetic substances to the same criminal penalties as those caught with real marijuana.
Kansas enacted the nation's first ban on synthetic marijuana when its governor signed a bill in March. The federal government hasn't regulated the substance, although it's banned in much of Europe and by the U.S. military.
The Missouri bill 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. It is sold in smoke shops and gas stations around the state.
Punishments imposed by the legislation would mimic the penalty for marijuana possession. Possession of 35 grams or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of larger amounts is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Sponsoring Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, first brought attention to the drug's use by Missourians in January. He said the products had become so prevalent that students in his town were lined up to buy it at the convenience store down the street from the high school.
"I think it's important to get it off the shelves to protect our children," Franz said.
Not much is understood about the compounds, including exactly how they are applied to the dried plants, where they are made and exactly what is in the 3-ounce silver packages sold for about $35. Toxicologists say the drugs affect the brain like marijuana, which is a cannabinoid.
The products are commonly smoked as a marijuana substitute by students and those on parole. The compounds do not currently show up in urinalysis tests.
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, sponsored a Senate amendment treating the synthetic compounds similarly to marijuana instead of more harshly. K2 is commonly sold to teenagers, and Justus said she was concerned about charging teens with felonies for possession.
Lawmakers fell just short of the votes needed to make the legislation effective immediately upon the governor's signature. Instead, the bill would take effect on Aug. 28, Missouri's standard date for new laws.
Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette, said the public should be given more warning before it becomes illegal to possess something.
The bill also aligns Missouri with the federal list of controlled substances. Most of those drugs are types of steroids.