Wednesday, 05 February 2014 16:29

Protesters gathered outside the Edgemere Convenience Store on North Point Road last Sunday. photo by Nicole Rodman

Store accused of selling synthetic pot to minors

by Nicole Rodman

A number of local parents are speaking out against an Edgemere convenience store that they allege is selling potentially dangerous synthetic marijuana to students at a nearby school.
    Approximately 15 protesters gathered outside of Edgemere Convenience Store on North Point Road last Saturday and Sunday to demonstrate against the store.
    According to the protesters, the demonstration was organized after a seventh-grade student at nearby Sparrows Point Middle School was hospitalized after smoking synthetic marijuana that she claimed was purchased at the Edgemere store.

What is synthetic marijuana?
    Synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or Spice, consists of plant materials sprayed with potent psychotropic chemicals.
    According to an informational flier from the Baltimore County Department of Health, while the drug may mimic the effects of marijuana — such as elevated mood and altered perceptions — the chemicals in synthetic marijuana are far more potent and dangerous than natural marijuana.   
    “K2/Spice has been linked to emergency room incidents, including suicide attempts, extremely elevated heart rate/blood pressure, comas, seizures  and heart attacks,” the flier stated.
    In addition, according to a February 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, three synthetic marijuana users  in Wyoming developed acute kidney injury after using the drug.
    Synthetic marijuana, often labeled as K2, Spice or Scooby Snax, can be found for sale in many tobacco shops, gas stations and convenience stores.
    While it is often labelled as incense or potpourri and may be marked “not for human consumption,” the product has become increasingly popular as a more readily-available way to get high.

Local impact

    According to Edgemere resident Megan Johnson, her daughter said she and a friend purchased synthetic marijuana from the Edgemere Convenience Store next to Sparrows Point Middle/High School  on Jan. 26.
    Within five minutes of smoking the synthetic marijuana, Johnson said, her daughter became ill.
    “It caused her to have an instant psychotic breakdown and now it is messing with her vital signs,” Johnson said.
    Police transported Johnson’s daughter to Franklin Square Medical Center, where she remained as of last Sunday.
    As Johnson reported, a week after ingesting the drug, her daughter was still suffering from tremors, vomiting and a faster-than-normal heart rate.
    Johnson indicated that doctors do not know if the damage will be long-term.
    She did acknowledge that her daughter does bear responsibility for smoking the substance.
    “My daughter is not innocent. She made a bad decision, but she has learned her lesson,” Johnson said.
    Though she acknowledges her daughter’s part, Johnson and her fellow protesters are speaking out against the store that they claim is selling the synthetic marijuana.
    Johnson told The Eagle that she went to the Edgemere Convenience Store to purchase the synthetic marijuana after her daughter was hospitalized.
    According to Johnson,  the product, labeled Spice Diamond and Scooby Snax, was kept in a box behind the store’s counter.
    Johnson and her fellow protestors expressed worry that synthetic marijuana is being sold to the many Sparrows Point middle and high school students that frequent the store.
    “We don’t care if they sell it to adults ... but you don’t sell it to minors,” protester Margie Colk said last Sunday.
    As of Monday, a Facebook page created by the protesters had 1,509 followers.
    When approached for comment about the protestor’s allegations last Sunday, a clerk at Edgemere Convenience Store denied that the store sells synthetic marijuana at all.
    There was no visible synthetic marijuana product in the store as of Sunday morning.
    In addition, the clerk questioned the claim that the student purchased the product at that store.
    The clerk referred The Eagle to the store’s owner for further comment.
    During attempts to cover the protest outside of the store later that day, the same store clerk repeatedly ordered Eagle staff members off of the premises.
    Repeated attempts to reach the owner of Edgemere Convenience Store by phone were not successful as of press time.
    For her part, Sparrows Point Middle School principal Lisa Perry denied having any knowledge about synthetic marijuana use among her students.
    “We don’t have any information about these activities whatsoever,” she stated.

Police respond

    According to Baltimore County Police spokesperson Elise Armacost, police did respond to the Edgemere Convenience Store on Saturday, Feb. 1, “in reference to a protest/demonstration.”
    While she noted that there were no calls for disturbances related to the demonstration,  there was one unrelated arrest at the scene.
    As for the allegations that the store is selling synthetic marijuana, Armacost stated, “We are aware of the complaints about this establishment and officers are investigating that.”

Efforts to ban synthetic marijuana 

    While once legal, the documented harmful effects of synthetic marijuana has led to bans being enacted on local, state and federal levels.
    In 2010, the Baltimore County Council passed a law banning the chemical compounds most commonly found in synthetic marijuana.
    On the federal level, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 prohibits the sale of cannabimimetic agents — chemicals that trigger the same brain receptors that respond to the active chemicals in marijuana.
    Since drug possession and sales are usually regulated on the state level, however, a federal law is much harder to enforce without an accompanying state ban.
    In April 2013, the Maryland General Assembly enacted its own ban on the chemicals found in certain types of synthetic marijuana.
    Soon, however, law enforcement officials realized that laws banning specific  chemicals found in synthetic marijuana did not go far enough.
    “These laws have proven ineffective and difficult to enforce because the compounds are complex, manufacturers change them at will and because the product labels sometimes don’t even identify the compounds,” Armacost explained. “So even though it often is obvious that a product is likely a synthetic drug based on its packaging, price point and marketing, law enforcement has not been able to act because of the specificity required under the existing statutes.”

A new approach
    In an effort to address this loophole, Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond introduced bill 78-13 last December.
    This law, rather than banning certain chemicals, would ban the distribution, use, purchase or possession of any type of synthetic marijuana.
    As Jonathan Schwartz, Senior Council Assistant to Councilwoman Almond, noted, the new law “goes after the category as opposed to trying to identify the different chemicals.”
    “Bill 78-13 regulates the product, not the chemical,” Armacost explained, noting, “Basically, it makes the synthetic cannabinoid itself illegal if its packaging, price point and marketing indicates that it is a synthetic cannabinoid.”
    In addition to packing, price point and marketing, the text of the bill defines synthetic marijuana as “a psychoactive substance or compound created with man-made synthetic chemicals that, when consumed or ingested, mimics the intoxicating effects of marijuana THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the naturally grown marijuana plant.”
    The bill was passed unanimously by the council on Jan. 22. It will go into effect on March 8.
    According to Schwartz, the purpose of the new law is “to provide the police department and state’s attorney’s office with greater tools for enforcement.”
    Armacost agreed, noting, “Our narcotics detectives are confident that they will be able to do a much better job of getting synthetic cannabinoids off the market ­— where increasingly they are being marketed to kids ....”
    Though the new law is more general than previous laws, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger is confident that the statute will withstand court scrutiny.
    When asked about concerns that the new law may be too broad, Shellenberger noted that he anticipates that argument being used by defendents once the first cases are prosecuted.
    Shellenberger did cite the “void for vagueness” doctrine in which a statute can be struck down for being unclear or too broad, but he expressed confidence that the law will survive. 
    The protesters in Edgemere they expressed hope that greater awareness and law enforcement measures will help keep synthetic marijuana out of the hands of their children.
    Protester Sarah Clark asked, “If we don’t protect them now, who’s going to protect them in the future?”
    For more information about synthetic marijuana, contact the Baltimore County Department of Health at 410-887-3828.