Maryland ban on synthetic marijuana takes effect October 1 - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Maryland ban on synthetic marijuana takes effect October 1

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It goes by names like Spice, K2 and Scooby Snax, but it is really synthetic marijuana. In May, a FOX 5 investigation first uncovered it being sold in Maryland stores despite a federal ban. Now that is changing. Starting October 1, a new Maryland law makes these drugs illegal in the state.

"This law will save lives," said Sandy Eichler.

She blames the drug for the loss of her son.

While synthetic marijuana was illegal under federal law, it only went so far. With a state law, there was little local police could do to stop the drug's sale in Maryland. Now they can.

"We will be prosecuting those who sell and use them," said Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal during a press conference to bring attention to the law.

The drug caused pain and heartache for the Eichler family. In just three months, synthetic marijuana stole their son Charlie's health.

"He was in an adult diaper. He couldn't walk. He couldn't feel his hands. His fingers," said his father Tony Eichler.

He suffered from psychosis and became paranoid.

At first, the family didn't know anything about K2, Spice or other types of synthetic marijuana. He was using it to dull the withdrawal symptoms from methadone used to treat a heroin addiction. Charlie told his parents it was an herb and was natural.

"We didn't realize the detrimental things that would happen when taking K2," his mom said.

Last year, the Montgomery County 22-year-old, ravaged by the drug, took his life.

"I firmly believe if he hadn't started using this, he'd still be with us today," his father said.

A new law making the drug illegal in Maryland takes effect just three days before Charlie's 23rd birthday.

The state's ban aims to keep this dangerous drug out of reach. It is sold as potpourri, under catchy names, packaged with cartoon characters, but is laced with chemicals mimicking marijuana.

Montgomery County is going after it on Day 1. The state's attorney and police are sending letters to gas stations, convenience stores and other retailers putting them on notice these synthetic marijuana products are illegal. The state's attorney says stores that get caught selling it will get a warning the first time, but after that will be prosecuted.

"There are real severe criminal penalties that are associated with this ... Getting people to comply with the law is the number one goal. If we can't get compliance ... obviously there's prosecution," said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy.

Possession of the drug is a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to four years. Distribution of synthetic marijuana can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Manufacturers stay a step ahead of laws by changing the chemical compounds to make them legal again. Some states have had to amend their laws to add additional chemical compounds.

In Virginia, some criminal charges have been dismissed when a lab analysis did not find the same chemicals banned under the law.

Maryland's law is different. Companies will not get away with changing the formula.

"We've now focused on the effect of the drug rather than the drug itself, which is a very creative way. If the drug affects the receptors in the brain the same way THC (the main ingredient in natural marijuana) does, you're in violation of the law," McCarthy explained.

One of the county's homeless shelters saw the drug's menacing effect. Clients at the shelter were buying it at gas stations and convenience stores within blocks of the shelter. Some people would turn violent from the chemical high. Others had convulsions and vomiting. Shelter officials fought for county and state lawmakers to make it illegal.

"It's truly a vicious drug and one that should not be available," said Susanne Sinclair-Smith, Executive Director for the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless.

Charlie Eichler, also introduced his 16-year-old brother, Steven, to synthetic marijuana. It was something they could use because it was not detectable in a urine test. A few weeks before his brother's death, Steven began to develop health problems he blamed on the drug. He couldn't feel his fingers and couldn't breathe. He ended up in the hospital for three days.

"The high is so intense and scary it makes you think you're going to die," said Steven Eichler.

He quit and tried to get Charlie to quit too, but his brother was a couple days too late.

Related Stories:

Scooby Snax for sale: why synthetic marijuana laws hard to enforce

FOX 5 Investigates: DC leaders, police pushing to get synthetic marijuana off the streets

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