Proposed changes to VA spice law could close loophole

Posted at 6:18 PM, Feb 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-10 18:18:26-05

Virginia lawmakers are now considering big changes to the state's law banning  synthetic marijuana that would close a critical loophole exposed in a November 2013 NewsChannel 3 investigation.

The loophole in the Virginia state law banning the sale or possession of sythentic 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 samples 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 1,000 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.

Changes to the law, proposed in HB 1112, would expand the list of cannabinoids and make it easier for newer versions of chemicals to be considered controlled substances.

Attorney General Mark Herring's office helped craft the changes to the law.  Herring wrote the original state law banning spice while he was a state lawmaker.  If the law passes, it would go in effect July 1, 2014.