NEW PORT RICHEY — On the heels of a Pasco Times story about the possible dangers of the sale of synthetic marijuana, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco spoke Tuesday about his plans to target synthetic drug use.
Synthetic marijuana is a leafy compound sprayed with chemicals that can cause hallucinations and extreme euphoria as well as irregular heartbeats and seizures, depending on the chemicals used.
Nocco said the Sheriff's Office has received many questions about synthetic drugs. He described the drugs' effects and noted that the drugs are sold at some local convenience stores.
Many forms of synthetic marijuana are legal. Nocco said Florida legislators banned the compounds used to create a product called Spice just a couple of months ago, and the Sheriff's Office began charging individuals with selling and manufacturing the product.
"Unfortunately, when the substance came back from the state laboratory, the results were negative, which means the distributors already changed the chemical compound so they are now outside the scope of the law," Nocco said.
Dr. Asher Gorelik, a psychiatrist and director of medical services for BayCare Behavioral Health, said manufacturers' persistent changes to the chemicals used in Spice and K2 make it hard for medical researchers to study the short- and long-term effects of using the substances.
Nocco said because manufacturers alter the chemical makeup of Spice so quickly, Florida's attorney general should have the power to classify such compounds as illegal without waiting until the next legislative session.
In the meantime, some Pasco residents remain determined to protest against stores that sell these products. Erik Suojanen, whose 17-year-old son Jake was hospitalized after using Spice, has organized a protest at 5 p.m. today at the Metro Gas Station on Little Road where he and others protested last week.
Nocco said he has joined the effort against stores that sell synthetic drugs as well. He said he and local merchants are developing stickers to be displayed in stores that do not sell synthetic drugs.
"If as a community we only buy at these stores and boycott stores that are selling this poison, then they will feel the pressure. They will either stop selling or lose revenue," Nocco said. "Either way, we are making our point and saving lives."
Mary Kenney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247