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2010-03-15: Emergence of New Underground Smoking Product

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Lawmakers push to ban mojo -- 'legal weed'

by Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
Posted on March 3, 2010 at 2:12 PM
Updated Wednesday, Mar 3 at 7:41 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- The push is on to outlaw what's known on the street as "legal weed."

It's sold as incense in multiple varieties, some called Spice or Mojo. Some specialty stores require you to be 18, but chances are, anyone can buy it at a nearby gas station.

“It had just started and already 12 people from the baseball team at my high school smoked it. So, if 12 people back then smoked it, how about now,” said Evelyn Pajon.

Pajon is a freshman at Delgado, and she taught a room full of law enforcement officers and drug treatment experts about Spice or Mojo on Wednesday.

“How many people have heard about spice or Mojo before Katie Moore's piece or our thing? About half of you,” said James Becnel, program director of the Jefferson Parish Alliance of Concerned Citizens.

It’s a group of prosecutors, detectives and community members. Those who knew about Mojo and those who didn't are all getting a detailed briefing on the synthetic marijuana.

“It is scary if you just Google on the Internet how many of them show up,” said Blair Constant, an investigator for the Jefferson Parish DA’s Office.

All the varieties of incense are sold at head shops, gas stations and convenience stores across the metro area.

Even though the packages only list a group of herbs as ingredients, the incense is often laced with synthetic chemicals that mimic THC, the main ingredient in marijuana that gets people high.

According to the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, there are six or seven chemical compounds that they've discovered that create a marijuana-like high. So far, HU 210 is the only one that has been outlawed under the controlled substances act, but experts agree JWH 018 is the most common.

“District attorneys from around the state are in town for a conference and that's one of the issues we will be discussing as potentially being part of our legislative package,” said Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick.

The other problem is enforcement. The synthetic chemcial compounds don't show up on either drug tests or law enforcement field tests, so they can't arrest people for having it until the DEA does detailed, lab analysis to find the synthetic THC.

“I think it's strictly that these kids know that it's not detectable on standardized drug screens right now. It is not illegal,” said Robyn Dewhirst, director of Assessments and Early Intervention Services for the Council on Alcohol and Drug abuse.

So, how widespread is it? One wholesaler we talked to said convenience stores are actually calling him asking him to get it because of the profit margin.

“The stores make anywhere between 80 and 100 percent profit margin,” said Clay Cangelosi.

He wholesales products to area convenience stores, and lately, he’s been selling them much more than candy and chips. Cangelosi said convenience stores asked him about it, before he even knew what it was.

“Dealing with some of my stores, what they told me, they're making more money off of that project than they are off the whole entire store,” Cangelosi said.

He and convenience store owners are already gearing up to fight to keep it legal, even as the push to outlaw Mojo and spice gets stronger.

DEA Headquarters spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told us, "The DEA considers these products, outside of HU 210, which is a controlled substance, as drugs of concern, and we are in the preliminary stages of determining whether or not some or all of them need to be controlled."

So far, the state of Kansas is the only state to outlaw some of the chemical compounds.