COLUMBIA CITY — Despite July 2011’s ban on synthetic marijuana, commonly known as “spice”, is still prevalent in Whitley County and much of Indiana.
Though the marijuana-like drug can’t be found on shelves at local businesses, Whitley County Drug Task Force Leader and Sheriff’s Detective Bill Brice said people are going to Fort Wayne or buying the substance on the internet.
“The ordinance has helped keep the illegal stuff off the shelves, but it’s still out there,” Brice said.
Whitley County Prosecutor Matt Rentschler said shortly after the ban, spice was removed by the WCSD from several local businesses.
“We obtained search warrants and confiscated those items,” Rentschler said. “Since then, I haven’t heard of anybody selling them.”
Last month, the Columbia City Police Department caught an alleged spice user.
According to CCPD Chief Tim Longenbaugh, a local woman allegedly smoked synthetic cannabis and drank alcohol before attempting to drive.
The accused hit a stop sign, ran a red light at U.S. 30 and witnesses said she was driving at a high rate of speed.
After the passenger got the car stopped at Arbys, spice was found in the vehicle.
According to the case report, the girl was vomiting profusely and slow to respond, lethargic and unresponsive at times.
“It’s a scary drug,” Brice said. “It affects different people different ways.”
Brice said he had a case in Churubusco with a man who couldn’t find his way home ... at Tri-lakes.
“He knew where he was, he just didn’t know how to get home,” Brice said.
Poison control centers about spice have more than doubled nationwide to about 6,300 last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
According to an article in the Washington Post, David Rozga, an Iowa 18-year-old who had just graduated from high school with a 3.5 grade-point average and planned to attend college, smoked synthetic marijuana, according to his father.
Rozga became agitated and told his friends “he felt like he was in hell,” his father said. A short time later, Rozga went home and shot himself in the head in June 2010. Police implicated synthetic marijuana as a factor in his suicide.
“We definitely have a problem with it in our community like many others,” Longenbaugh said. “We will be looking at a more proactive approach to this problem in the near future.”
Whitley County has had 11 cases of synthetic cannabis since the July 15 ban.
The repercussions of synthetic cannabis are much like marijuana, according to Rentschler.
“The statue criminalizing it treats it very much like marijuana,” Rentschler said. “Some cases aren’t prosecuted and people are put on probation for first time offenses, just like marijuana.”
Indian Springs Middle School was searched with three Indiana State Police drug dogs on Dec. 20 during a routine lock-down drill, according to ISP Public Information Officer Ron Galaviz.
Galaviz said no illegal substances were found during the search.
It is unknown if the dogs were trained for synthetic marijuana, as many K-9s aren’t conditioned for spice.
Detective Brice said authorities all over the country are struggling to combat the problem because as soon as lawmakers add another illegal chemical to the list, drugmakers change the chemistry of the drug to make it legal again.
Spice manufacturers spray herbs with compounds that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana and alter their recipes just enough to skirt bans.
“It’s difficult to make a test for a drug that is constantly changing,” Brice said.
The mixes are made with the synthetic version of compounds known as cannabinoids and are sold for around $15 to $25 per gram. One website advertises “Legal products available for each... state!”
Brice said the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is looking to create a “blanket” policy to cover all forms of “intoxicants” or mood-altering drugs.
But a law such as that would have to be carefully worded to not include alcohol.
Spice is banned in about 40 states.
In Virginia, during July and August alone, a forensic lab tested 468 spice samples sent by police statewide. Only 101 included banned substances.