On Oct. 4 Baltimore County legislators passed a unanimous ban on the sale, possession and distribution of the synthetic marijuana-like substance sold as “Spice” or “K2.” Violators of the new law, which takes effect 45 days after the resolution was adopted, could face a misdemeanor charge along with a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. Ocean City, Md., already has a similar ban in place, along with 13 other jurisdictions in the United States.

“We don’t know what this substance can do to people,” said Councilman Kenneth Oliver, who recently won re-election to represent the county’s fourth legislative district by a slim margin. “It’s just like marijuana, crack, and cocaine. I hope people are smart enough to stay away from it, but we had to do something to stop the sale of drug paraphernalia in our neighborhoods.”

Oliver said though he only knew of one or two establishments in the county that actually sold the substance, the council had conversations with Baltimore County law enforcement and the health department while drafting the legislation and had their full support.

One store is located in Catonsville, a district represented by Councilman Samuel Moxley, who said his support of the legislation stems from concerns that the higher cost of the synthetic substance will drive users to acquire its cheaper, illegal alternative, marijuana. “Because it is a synthetic product and not a drug, it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or any other government group,” he said. “Parents have so many concerns these days, that when government can help with things of this nature, it makes sense. However, it does not take the place of supervision.”

In a recent interview with the AFRO, Dr. Matthew Johnson, who specializes in psychopharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, said very little is known about these compounds and how they affect the human brain. The compounds found in Spice and similar products – JWH-018 and JWH-073 – affect the same brain receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana, THC. However, the effects of JWH-018 are stronger than marijuana because “they are hitting the receptors at full throttle and marijuana is only putting the pedal half-way down,” he said. “We at least know that marijuana does not have a risk of lethal overdose. That may or may not be true for these substances.”

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz introduced the legislation in September and said he hopes the bill’s passage will send a message to retailers in Baltimore County. “Baltimore County is no place for head shops,” he said. “It was brought to my attention that the store in Catonsville was earning thousands of dollars a week from the sale of this substance and anyone, adult or juvenile, could walk into the store and make a purchase. That is not an appropriate message to send to children.”

The councilman, who is seeking election to the county executive seat in November, said parents alerted him to the activity in the store and requested an intervention. “I spoke with Police Chief Jim Johnson and he fully supported this bill,” he said. “This is one less negative influence on children and that is a good thing for parents.”