Lawmakers are looking to crack down on the sale of artificial marijuana in the state by bringing Maryland law in line with federal regulations.
A prefiled bill sponsored by Del. Kevin Kelly (D-Dist. 1B) of Cumberland will add cannabimimetic agents — chemicals that produce an effect similar to marijuana — to Maryland’s roster of controlled dangerous substances that “may not be legally used, possessed, or distributed.”
The chemicals — commonly called “spice” or “K2” — are already banned at the federal level, Kelly said.
But Maryland prosecutors have argued that the state needs a criminal penalty of its own so cases can be prosecuted at a local level.
Officials say such drugs can cause severe anxiety, seizures, hallucinations and cardiac problems and have no accepted medical use.
A similar law, adding some federally banned chemical compounds known as “bath salts” to the state’s Schedule 1 controlled substances list, was approved by lawmakers earlier this year and took effect in October.
The bath salts and artificial-marijuana problems go hand in hand, and have been particularly bad in Western Maryland, Kelly said.
In the past, bath salts and synthetic marijuana have been sold legally in smoke shops and convenience stores.
Possession of a controlled, dangerous substance other than marijuana in Maryland is a misdemeanor punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. Possession of marijuana carries lesser penalties.
Legislation similar to Kelly’s proposal has been introduced in the past two years, but has died in committee.
Banning the substances is tricky because the law must list the specific compounds, which means that manufacturers can change the formulas slightly and sell the products legally again, said Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
Shipley said he had not yet reviewed Kelly’s proposal, but said it was important to make sure as many of the compounds were made illegal as possible.