Stores Fight Proposed Federal Ban on Spice, 'Legal Marijuana'

Government has no 'right to regulate euphoria,' say retailers.

June 1, 2011, 10:21 AM

June 1, 2011 — -- Arguing that the government has no "right to regulate euphoria," a coalition of retail stores is fighting federal efforts to ban the sale of products that mimic the effects of marijuana, including K2, Spice and Potpourri.

The products have become widely known to high school students and members of the military as "legal marijuana" that do not show up on drug tests and are sold at malls, convenience stores and gas stations for between $15 and $85.

"I'd like to ask the government, what is wrong with euphoria and who gave them the right to regulate it," said Dan Francis, executive director of The Retail Compliance Association, a trade group that represents retail stores selling the chemical concoctions.

In an interview to be broadcast on "20/20" Friday, Francis says the K2 and Spice products "are much less dangerous than, let's say, peanuts" and other foods that can trigger allergic reactions.

Francis says the chemicals make users feel as good as "when you bite into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and you have that sensation of, man that's good." Francis did not concede that retailers were selling the products to be ingested, and said the euphoria may result from being in the room where the products are being burned.

But federal law enforcement officials and many doctors say the products -- using chemicals manufactured mostly in China and sprayed on incense and dried leaves that can be smoked -- are much more powerful than actual marijuana and can produce dangerous side effects.

"K2 and Spice are tremendously, tremendously psychoactive drugs," said Dr. M. David Lewis, the medical director of the Visions Adolescent Treatment Center in Malibu, California, one of many drug treatment centers that report being flooded by teens addicted to the so-called "legal marijuana."

WATCH Stores Sell Spice To Teens

"If you take a developing brain and you put a tremendously psychoactive substance in the middle of that, that developing brain, what you really have is a chemistry experiment," Dr. Lewis told "20/20."

In March, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, co-chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, introduced legislation to ban the chemicals commonly used in producing the products.

"People are buying this drug so easily at the local mall or on-line that they think it's safe," said Grassley. "People, including a young Iowan, have died or been seriously injured because of this product."

Teen Committed Suicide After Smoking K2, Say Parents

Grassley's legislation is named for 18-year old David Rozga of Indianola, Iowa. Rozga's parents say he took his own life after smoking K2 purchased at a suburban shopping mall.

"They don't care who they hurt or what they do," said Rozga's father Mike in urging Congress to ban the chemicals.

The retail stores trade group says a ban would send the trade "underground" and is unnecessary since most stores will not sell to anyone under the age of 18.

"Teenagers don't belong touching this stuff," said the group's executive director Dan Francis.

Yet, as part of the "20/20" investigative report, a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old wearing undercover cameras in New York and Los Angeles were easily able to buy K2 and Spice at retail stores.

The clerk of one store along Venice Beach in Los Angeles admitted he had not asked for any valid ID and conceded it was wrong for him to sell to a 16-year-old boy.

Asked about the possible consequences, the clerk told ABC News, "nothing good."

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