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New drug laws target local businesses selling drug paraphernalia and synthetic marijuana substitute

Oklahoma law enforcement officials say that thanks to a new. Nov. 1 state law, they are now empowered to shut down stores and arrest owners and cashiers selling certain drug paraphernalia and synthetics. They intend to act on that power immediately. Photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Law enforcement officials say arrests are imminent for retailers selling methamphetamine or “meth” pipes and the synthetic marijuana substitute known as K2.

Oklahoma House Bills 3380 and 3241 became law on Nov. 1, making it illegal to sell such items.

These laws target owners and employees of head shops and convenience stores selling merchandise designed for use with illicit drugs.

“We are going to be making some arrests in the next few days,” said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in an interview last week.

“If shops continue to sell these products, we will aggressively go after the stores that sell them, and they will face the letter of the law. We will prosecute them and they will serve jail time,” said Woodward.

According to the new law, the sale of any cylindrical glass pipe between two and 7 inches in length and with bowls less than 4 inches around, will merit the violator to be charged with the sale or possession of drug paraphernalia.

“It no longer matters what is written on the box, or if the pipe is sold as an incense burner,” Woodward said. “If a small business owner is selling glass pipes, he will be charged for paraphernalia for the amount of glass pipes they have in stock.

“But selling one pipe is enough for us to put these people in jail, shut down their stores and seize their inventory,” he said. “It’s possible that not only store owners will be arrested, but employees as well.”

The illegalization of K2 comes after a series of hospitalizations from smoking the herbal blend in Oklahoma, said Woodward.

K2 by name is not technically illegal. However, the three synthetic chemical compounds that are sprayed on the herbs during production are, he said.

Dr. Anthony Scalzo is a professor of Toxicology at Saint Louis University who has studied the ill effects of the synthetic marijuana known as K2.

According to Scalzo, K2 dangerously affects the cardiovascular system of its smokers and results in hearts racing, blood pressure rising, vomiting, panic attacks and, in some cases, brain seizures.

Trent Hancock works with addicts daily as a drug and alcohol counselor for A Chance to Change Foundation, a treatment facility at 5228 Classen Circle.

“There was a lot of gray area in the selling these products,” said Hancock. “Glass pipes were only legal because they were being sold as incense burners and K2 is marketed as potpourri.”

“We support law enforcement’s efforts to stop the meth problem. But it seems like a lot of people will be going to jail for selling paraphernalia real soon, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” Hancock said.

He said he does not think banning the pipes will prevent people from smoking meth.

“I expect if people don’t have glass pipes, they would simply find another way to smoke it,” Hancock said.

Officer Woodward concurs.

“We’ve seen pipes made out of broken light bulbs, soda cans, brass plumbing parts, car antennas, aluminum foil —  if a person wants to make a pipe they will,” Woodward said. “What we don’t want is to allow (meth smokers) the ability to buy pipes in convenience stores.”

Jack Johnson is a cashier at Ziggy’s on Northwest 39th St. at Pennsylvania. Last week he removed the glass tube pipes and incense from the shelves, including some tobacco pipes that could fit the law’s description, he said. Johnson is glad that his store will no longer carry either of these items.

“The people who would normally come here to buy glass pipes, well, they’re pretty unpredictable,” Johnson said. “They’re usually pretty spun out, and those people are the first who’ll try to steal from our store.”

He said most of the weed substitutes, like K2, contain chemicals, such as arsenic, that are very bad for smokers. He said he hates to see people putting such toxins in their bodies and is glad to see them go.

“As far as K2, they should just make marijuana legal, there’s no harm in it,” he said. “If Oklahoma saw how much tax money they could make off that  …it would help (our economy) a lot.”

“Illegalizing K2 is just going to crowd our prison system with inmates with drug charges, but the prisons are so crowded already, it’d hardly matter,” said Johnson.

“People are going to do what they want to do regardless of laws, it’s basic human nature,” he said.

“If you make it illegal (to buy a pipe) to smoke meth, people will just start cooking it at home and shooting it up,” he said.

“When the bodies start dropping and more people are dying, maybe the laws will change,” said Johnson.

Officer Woodward disagrees.

“I don’t feel the illegalization of meth pipes will turn many users into needle junkies,” Woodward said.

A 2010 Centers for Disease Control study stated that there have been 703 diagnosed cases of HIV transmitted from intravenous drug use in Oklahoma since the inception of the outbreak. There were roughly 100 cases of Hepatitis C diagnosed in the state last year.

A U.S. Department of Justice Assessment on Drug Abuse states that 850,000 Americans reported using methamphetamines in 2008.

Oklahoma law enforcement shut down 743 meth labs in 2009. Fifty-one people died from meth overdoses in the state last year. This does not account for the deaths of people who contract cancer from years of smoking meth, or the deaths caused from its associated health hazards.

“People get hooked on meth fast, especially if they inject it,” said Hancock. “By the time I see people who are hooked, they are isolated, in legal problems and stealing and dealing to fund their addictions.”

“If you have a problem with meth, you need to get treatment,” he said. “You can call 211 and they will direct you to whatever drug or alcohol service you need.”

Those seeking help can call a toll free crisis line 24/7 by dialing at 211, for guidance about mental crises, drug abuse, gambling addiction and similar problems

Many states offer needle exchange programs to intravenous drug addicts.

Helen, a 211 phone representative, said she’s never heard of a needle exchange program for drug addicts, and didn’t know what one was, before disconnecting the call.

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