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Baltimore Considers Synthetic Marijuana Ban

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Baltimore City Councilmember Sharon Green Middleton is the sponsor of the bill to ban spice, a synthetic form of marijuana.
Baltimore City Councilmember Sharon Green Middleton is the sponsor of the bill to ban spice, a synthetic form of marijuana.

The Baltimore City Council is considering a ban on a substance called "spice." It's a synthetic form of marijuana that's already illegal in Ocean City and will be in Baltimore County come December.

Sharon Green Middleton is a Baltimore city council member. She used to teach health in Baltimore County high schools, so it makes sense that Middleton wants to extend the county's recently approved spice ban inside the city limits.

"Teens, adults, no one should be experimenting with this synthetic drug," Middleton says.

Spice is basically green leaves sprayed with man-made chemicals that mimic the ingredients in marijuana, that give people a high. Pot is illegal, but spice is not.

"Most synthetic drugs that are being made are illegal, so how did this get past the radar?" she asks.

Middleton says she's read accounts of overdoses, blackouts and tremors from spice in other states. No life-threatening situations have been reported to the Maryland Poison Center. Middleton says her measure would prevent problems before they happen.

Spice is an example of how chemicals designed for research make it into the marketplace.

Johns Hopkins scientist Dr. Matthew Johnson can explain its chemical makeup: "These are molecules that are similar to the naturally occurring THC that's in marijuana, but different."

The more interesting thing for Johnson is that the compounds in spice were not developed by people who wanted to sell fake marijuana. They were created by scientists trying to help people with cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. Their research got published in peer-reviewed journals. Street drug chemists use the articles like recipe books to make spice.

"So, like anything else, access to information is a tool that can have positive and negative effects," Johnson says.

Johnson says even if spice is banned in Baltimore and elsewhere, there are hundreds of other fake marijuana compounds that could make their way to market.

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