A powerful South Carolina legislator has asked two state agencies to issue emergency regulations on spice and bath salts– synthetic drugs sold over the counter to mimic the effects of marijuana and cocaine, respectively.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) is urging the Department of Health and Environmental Control to prohibit the sale of the drugs. Peeler said he had not known about the relatively new products until he started getting inundated by constituents’ calls. “They wanted to know why we haven’t banned these substances,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “They explained to me that you can buy it at any age over the counter and it’s just synthetic drugs.”
The drugs have begun appearing in the past year. Their use is still relatively small in South Carolina, but growing. Health experts warn they are more dangerous than the real thing, often causing tachycardia, or severely fast heart beats.
A DHEC spokesman would not say how the agency planned to act on the request. He did confirm Peeler had been in touch with DHEC officials, and that “the ball is already rolling.” Emergency regulations take effect as soon as they are filed with Legislative Council. They are designed to last until the Legislature returns to session.
Last year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that would have banned synthetic marijuana, but it stalled in the House. Peeler said he plans to bring forward new legislation that would ban both synthetic marijuana and bath salts. The Legislature will reconvene in January.
Several cities around South Carolina have already banned the drug, including Rock Hill and Georgetown. Columbia is currently considering a ban, as well.
Ironically, “spice” was first created by a Clemson student as part of a school project in 1995. At the time, the student was working under organic chemistry professor John Huffman, who was examining cannabis’ effect on the brain. Huffman published the findings in the journal of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics three years later. Manufacturers found the formula, and soon began making their own versions.
In early September, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration moved to ban three of the substances found in bath salts, they could be banned within 90 days. The continuing problem is that makers of these drugs will tweak the compound just enough so that it will not be illegal. Currently both spice and bath salts are not listed as controlled substances in South Carolina.