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News Businesses asked to stop selling synthetic cannabinoids

On Jan. 19, Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, along with a few of his deputies, paid a visit to local businesses and issued them written requests asking them to voluntarily stop selling “herbal incense” products.

The controversial “incense” has gained national attention in recent months as a popular smokable product. The hazy craze is reportedly due to the fact that the effects of smoking incense are similar to those of marijuana.

On Jan. 19, Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, along with a few of his deputies, paid a visit to local businesses and issued them written requests asking them to voluntarily stop selling “herbal incense” products.

The controversial “incense” has gained national attention in recent months as a popular smokable product. The hazy craze is reportedly due to the fact that the effects of smoking incense are similar to those of marijuana.

“Both locally and nationally there are increasing incidents of young people ending up in emergency rooms or worse after smoking these products,” read Holland’s letter, attributing the adverse health reactions to the consumption of the chemicals. “Again, I am asking you to voluntarily comply with my request for the good of our community and our younger citizens. While I am writing you in my official capacity, I am not implying that there will be any legal repercussions if you choose not to honor my request, unless or until NC state law is changed.”

Holland said that he has received numerous complaints from the community, mostly parents, about the products. “Due to the fact that we had received numerous complaints about the product, our objective was to go to businesses and politely ask them to voluntarily stop selling. People volunteer in Macon County all the time,” he said. “And some of them politely said ‘no,’” Holland laughed.

So far, Holland has had a few businesses comply with his request, but many are continuing to sell the products. “Some of them are accusing me of bullying them, but I simply asked them to voluntarily stop selling it. I got a lot of good response and I got some negative response,” said Holland, describing the majority of the public’s feedback as positive.

Most of the businesses told authorities that the herbal incense products are their “bread and butter,” according to Holland. He said many businesses reported that they generated, at times, up to $3,000 in sales from the product on a monthly basis. “They just cannot stop selling it.”

Various brands of the “incense” are currently being sold around Macon County, including “K2”, “Spice” and “Burning Bush.” For approximately $20 one can purchase a number of different brands at several businesses, including the recently annexed Ridgecrest Exxon, Doobie’s Alternative Gifts and Pipeline.

The sale of “incense,” such as the one above, continue to sell at area businesses, despite Sheriff Holland’s request that they suspend sales of the product. “Incense” products often come with customer warnings stating that the products are free of illegal Schedule 1 controlled substances.

But the safety of smoking the cannabinoid products has not been proven. Dr. Douglas Scothorn, a pediatric oncologist at Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville, agrees that smoking products like Red Magic is an inherently dangerous practice.

“Anytime you breathe in something other than oxygen, the particulate matter can cause lung irritation, which can lead to lung cancer.” Dr. Scothorn advised, “...and anytime you are taking any chemical into your body that hasn’t been tested on plants or animals, that hasn’t undergone clinical testing, the risk [of cancer] is there.” Scothorn added that inhaling anything, including the smoke from the “incenses,” is a “bad idea.”

One brand’s maker, E.F. Foster, of Franklin, described Holland’s efforts as “commendable,” even though his product “Burning Bush” is among the “incenses” targeted by his letter. Foster admitted that his product does have the capacity to be used as a drug, which is discouraged on the packaging.

“None of our blends have illegal substances in them, and they’re all natural,” Foster said. The packaging of the product, he explained, explicitly states that it is not intended to be sold to anyone under the age of 18, nor should it be inhaled. “Our product is not illegal and is made of things you can buy at a health food store. We have a problem with Holland making a sweep on that simply because it goes against our rights.”

Michelle Phillips, proprietor of the Highlands Road “head shop” Pipeline, stated that they would not stop selling the products, due to the revenue it provided. However, she said, taking the product off of store shelves will not solve the age-old issue of adolescent antics. “It’s just like alcohol. If kids want it bad enough, they’re going to get it. What you do with it once you walk out my door, I can’t stop. If you want to ban this, how about ban white out, magic markers, glue, paint, starter fluid, we can go on and on and on,” she said. She added that product sales have increased in the last week, since the media began to focus the public's attention on the herbal incense.

“We won’t sell to anyone under the age of 18 and we don’t recommend you smoke it,” said Phillips, who has children of her own. She suggested parents talk with their kids about the product and research it. “People need to do their research.”

Doobie’s Alternative Gifts indicated in a statement that they will not sell the products to anyone under the age of 18. “At this store we sell the following products: Chill, Red Magic, Fusion and Burning Bush. We do have toxicity reports for all of these and none carry the banned chemicals. Burning Bush has no chemicals at all,” the statement read.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency used its emergency scheduling authority to put five of the chemicals in the same group as heroin or PCP, making possession or distribution of the chemicals illegal for the time being. JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH- 200, CP-47, 497, and cannabicyclohexanol are the chemicals currently scheduled by the agency.

DEA public relations officer Michael Sanders said there are many variations of the chemicals which cause the pot-like effects. “The ones that aren’t covered in the emergency scheduling act are treated as Schedule I substances through the Analogue Act,” he said. Yet the herbal incenses remain on store shelves until the NC state law or federal laws crack down further on manufacturers and distributors.





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published: 10/18/2013
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