A loophole in the Virginia state law banning the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana is allowing newer versions of the product to still be legally available in stores statewide.
"How far does it have to go?" said Charles, an admitted former user of the drug who told NewsChannel 3 it's still being sold in stores across Hampton Roads.
The Virginia code banning synthetic marijuana lists several chemical compounds spice makers spray on plant materials to create a marijuana-like high. Those compounds are called synthetic cannabinoids. Many of the suspected spice sampled tested in most criminal cases show the plant material is laced with something, but not always the specific compounds listed in the state law. No matches usually means no charges.
"[There are] several hundred base compounds that are synthetic cannabinoids and [manufacturers] just take those structures and change them slightly to make them not controlled in the United States," said Brian Meinweiser, a state forensic scientist.
NewsChannel 3 sifted through more than a thousand Virginia spice court case outcomes since the law went into effect. More than 70 percent of those cases are either dismissed or nolle prossed, essentially meaning they go nowhere in court.
NewsChannel 3 dug even deeper into several dozen of those dead end cases in Hampton, Newport News and Virginia Beach. The labs for most of them reveal the chemical found on the suspected weren't considered controlled substances according to the law.
"We were aware that that would likely occur and that we would have to continue to update those laws as we learn about the chemical compounds," said Mark Herring, who wrote the state's spice law. "This gets to an issue with designer drugs generally that points to the need to continue to remain vigilant."
Herring said the most recent update to the 2011 law was language that was aimed at acting as a catch-all for chemical compounds, but forensic scientists can't always say for sure if they're synthetic cannabinoids.