York County officials hope a new federal ban on selling and possessing synthetic marijuana will decrease its popularity among area youths. Still, county officials say they are counting on state leaders to outlaw the substance.
Despite the federal ban, authorities found the products - sold as an herbal remedy or as incense - in two area stores last week.
"The first store only had a little bit," said Marvin Brown, commander of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit. "We seized it."
The second store refused to comply at first, he said.
That's why Brown and other local officials support a state bill to outlaw synthetic pot. It's also important because the federal ban, which went into effect March 1, is only temporary, officials say.
"(Retailers) need to go ahead and clean their shelves," Brown said. "There is no grace period. The new federal law gives us the right to confiscate it."
The federal ban was put in place last week to "prevent an imminent threat to public health and safety," according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"What's good about the federal ban is it goes after the distributor," said Jane Alleva, director of York County All On Board Coalition. "Overall, it (the ban) will help get synthetic marijuana off the shelves."
The federal ban is set to expire after one year.
"Hopefully, now it will give us time to get it through the state Legislature," said Diane Dasher, members of Fort Mill school board and York County All On Board Coalition. Dasher said she hopes local leaders will pick up the baton.
"They (the DEA) look to the states to make it illegal," Dasher said. "I want to see the York County Council have a ban as well as Fort Mill Town Council and Tega Cay City Council to become a leader in the state in protecting our youth and anyone else who might think it (synthetic marijuana) was safe because it was legal."
If the ban becomes state law, law enforcement would be able to do more than seize the drug, Brown said.
"We'll be able to make criminal charges," Brown said. "If you get caught with synthetic marijuana, there's no blue ticket like with marijuana. It's a warrant. You will go to jail. You will have to bond out."
Possessing synthetic marijuana, a misdemeanor charge, would carry a jail sentence up to six months and/or a $1,000 fine, Brown said. For the business that continues to sell synthetic marijuana, "dealers" would face possession with intent to distribute, a felony charge.
The drug, which doesn't show up on standard drug tests, mimics the sort of high a user gets with marijuana, but it is highly addictive and can have a hallucinogenic effect similar to that of PCP.
"Since last summer, we've had multiple calls of Fort Mill adolescents and young adults who have had health problems related to smoking K2," Alleva said.
"Synthetic marijuana is targeted to middle to upper middle class market, kids who have access to cars and cash," Alleva said. "We have a lot of stores that were selling it in Fort Mill. A lot of them have voluntarily stopped selling it."
County officials have fielded more than 27 cases involving synthetic marijuana.
"I know of at least two middle school children who, in two separate instances in just the last few weeks, ended up in the emergency room because they were smoking K2," Alleva said.
The products could also contribute to death, Alleva said. Officials say there is one death in York County that toxicology results show is related to the use of synthetic marijuana.