Fake Reefer Madness: Kansas lawmakers' paranoid rush to ban synthetic marijuana 

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(Full disclosure: The Pitch conducted its own clinical trial of K2 in the parking lot of its Crossroads office in November 2009, shortly after area television stations and newspapers ran stories about this new, legal teen scourge. Six human guinea pigs participated in that test. One became unbearably self-conscious; another grew nauseated and had to lie down; two found everything in the office hysterically funny for about 20 minutes; one's eyelids lowered to half-mast like Garfield's; and one left to buy a soda, then reappeared and shouted, "Apples!" The remaining testers laughed for no discernible reason. Most of the smokers reported feeling clearheaded within 30 minutes. While they liked a legal alternative that didn't contribute blood money to violent South American drug cartels, they'd just as soon spend $10 or more for the real thing. For a more detailed description of the research methodology and results, search the Plog archives at pitch.com for "Product review: Will K2 synthetic marijuana get you high?")

Sitting in the back rows are K2 supporters. Natalie McAnulla, who owns a Lawrence store called Sacred Journey, is here. McAnulla took over Sacred Journey last year after being an employee at the store, and by that time, K2 was already on the shelves. Also present is Jon Sloan, who owns Lawrence's Bouncing Bear Botanicals, which also stocks K2 and has been McAnulla's supplier. The stores had been selling K2 for months before it caught on with the public. Sales began taking off in the fall of 2009. Then the media picked up the story, and lines started forming into the street.

In his brief testimony, Sloan says he does not allow anyone under 18 to purchase K2 and that he has helped distribute the product for a Maryland supplier.

John Knox, the attorney for Sacred Journey, argues that there is no research available on the cannabinoids' benign or harmful properties, and that banning them without further study would be shortsighted. If he'd wanted to, he also could have argued that criminalizing K2 would mean a loss in revenue for the cash-strapped state: In December, Sacred Journey generated $20,000 in sales tax on that product alone.

"There are lots of drugs that can be used to get high," Knox tells the legislators. "Alcohol can be used to get high. And we know alcohol causes a lot of deaths. But we don't make it illegal."

"We're not here to compare this to things that aren't in the proposed legislation," says the committee chairwoman, Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican who raised no similar objections when police officers compared K2 with LSD, Ecstasy and THC.

Knox doesn't respond, but the last three rows erupt in hooting and jeers.

"Inquisitor!" shouts one bearded young man.

Other than this outburst, most of the hearing is calm and respectful. The exception is Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican with a butch buzz cut, who runs a smug, adversarial line of questioning whenever a speaker questions the need for a ban.

This is most obvious when Hudson Luce shuffles from his chair to the microphone. His gray sweater has holes in it, his khakis are frayed, and his receding silver hair is swept back into a messy ponytail.

He's a U.S. patent attorney with a doctorate in physical organic chemistry.

"These cannabinoids and their receptors play an active role in controlling immune response and inflammation, as well as analgesia and the treatment of alcoholism," Luce testifies. "Cannabinoids have also recently been patented by a group at the Department of Health and Human Services for their neuroprotective and antioxidant capabilities. Other cannabinoids and analogs show great promise in treatment of neuroflammatory disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, amyloid formation in Alzheimer's disease, and many others. Also, cannabinoids show promise as treatments for atherosclerosis and breast cancer. JWH-018, the active ingredient in K2, is itself the subject of two U.S. patents owned by Roche Biotechnology for its use as a neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory agent."

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