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"Why do you think high-school kids should smoke it and get high?" Kinzer asks.
"I don't think anyone should smoke anything," Luce responds. "Smoking anything — tobacco, K2 — carries significant health risks."
As the meeting draws to an end, K2's defenders seem hopeful. The rep from Kansas City, Kansas, a Democrat named Stan Frownfelter, preaches personal responsibility, saying they might as well ban airplane glue.
Less than a week later, every member of the committee votes in favor of legislation banning the synthetics. It is the first act of the legislative session. Shortly after that, the Senate passes its own, similar bill.
"The cops clearly had notice. They had all these uncited, well-prepared speaches. We had three or four days to mount a really weak opposition," McAnulla later says. "It was like, no matter what was said, the outcome was already decided."
If Kansas becomes the first state in the country to ban synthetic cannabinoids, and does it solely on the testimony of fewer than a dozen cops on one gray afternoon in Topeka, it won't only lose out on revenue from head-shop taxes. It could strangle research that might lead to treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.
Luce's January 19 testimony was slightly flawed: A spokesman for Roche tells The Pitch that the Switzerland-based pharmaceutical research development company has no patents related to JWH-018.
Luce later blames this error on the pressures of writing testimony on K2 with just 12 hours' notice. But his argument remains sound. Luce had the company wrong, but synthetic cannabinoids are the subject of two U.S. patents owned by the University of Connecticut, and a number of companies (including Roche) are researching their pharmaceutical potential.
In the 1980s, the only cannabinoids were compounds based on THC, some made by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. Meanwhile, Sterling Winthrop Pharmaceutical was trying to develop anti-inflammatory drugs and found that certain cannabinoids worked, but there weren't many types available.
At South Carolina's Clemson University, Professor John Huffman's students developed 15 synthetic cannabinoids and published their work in 1994, naming the compounds with Huffman's initials, JWH. Huffman can't be certain how this work went from his lab to new-age shops, but he has a theory.
In 2008, he contributed a chapter to a book titled Cannabinoid Receptors. He suspects that Korean and Chinese entrepreneurs used the information to develop and sell a plant-growth hormone. That year, a German blogger wrote about a synthetic pot called "Spice Gold," made with JWH compounds, and word spread on the Web. "Once something gets out, given modern communications, it's gangbusters," he says. Making a synthetic cannabinoid, he says, is a two-step process using commercially available chemicals.
"I think anybody that smokes it is stupid," Huffman says. "I have nothing against recreational drugs, but if you don't know the long-term consequences or toxicity, you're an idiot to take it." Many scientific journals have published the results of marijuana studies, he notes. But of K2, he says, "I've never seen anything in any peer-reviewed journal."
Huffman says preventing people from using K2 recreationally is a good idea, but banning synthetic cannabinoids isn't.