Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, whose district includes Lutherville-Timonium, plans to introduce legislation next month to ban a legal substance that mimics the effects of marijuana.
Kamenetz, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive in the Sept. 14 primary election, said he is worried about the substance, called K2 or "spice," because there is no age restriction on who can purchase it.
"I have two small children and I view this as a real problem," said Kamenetz, who announced his proposal recently across the street from Peace of Sunshine store in Catonsville. "The state legislature only meets 90 days a year and the federal government has not taken on this issue so it's up to the local government to step in and take swift action."
Peace of Sunshine used to sell K2 along with the store's assortment of tie-dyed shirts, jewelry, incense and glass pipes. Other "head shops" in the Lutherville-Timonium area do not sell the substance.
Peach of Sunshine's owner, Lawrence J. Zwick, said his shop sells legal products and that he believes it is unfair for the government to single out K2.
"I'm a believer in selling anything as long as it's legal," said Zwick, a 44-year-old retired Coast Guard warrant officer who opened Peace of Sunshine about four years ago.
Kamenetz, a former prosecutor, wants his legislation to make it illegal to sell, buy, own, buy or distribute K2, or any similar products that mimic marijuana. Penalties for violators of the proposed legislation would a fine of up to $500 and/or 60 days in jail.
K2 showed up in the United States about a year ago and several states have already banned the synthetic substance. Locally, stores in Ocean City have cooperated with a request by police there to voluntarily take K2 off the shelves.
The American Association of Poison Centers has reported more than 1,000 calls about K2 this year, up from less than 100 in 2009, according to its Web site.
An herbal marijuana substitute, K2 is a blend of herbs sprayed with a synthetic marijuana-like drug. While no deaths have been reported from ingesting K2, its users describe suffering from a variety of symptoms including agitation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tremors and chest pain in some cases.
The product is marketed as incense or potpourri and is sold for about $20 a gram, or more than five times the price for marijuana.
"The problem is this product isn't regulated and we don't know everything about its effects," said David Goldman, chief of the Bureau of Behavioral Health for the Baltimore County Health Department. "But we do know that anytime you ingest anything into your lungs or smoke a synthetic substance that's not healthy.
Goldman added: "This product is available at a relatively inexpensive cost and people need to be aware of its effects and how powerful it can be."
County Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive, supports the legislation. However, he believes much more needs to be done.
"Passing the legislation just in Baltimore County is just taking a Band-Aid approach to the issue," Bartenfelder said. "If we ban it in Baltimore County, then people can just go to Harford or Anne Arundel or Baltimore City and buy it there. We really need a statewide ban once the legislature meets again in Annapolis."
As for Zwick, he says he has already sold his last bag of K2. But, he's not entirely happy about it as he made up to $5,000 a week in sales of the product since January. He believes he is a victim of election-year politics as the county and state have far greater issues to deal with.
"I'll miss the sales and it will be a great loss of income," Zwick said. "Baltimore has one of the highest rates of heroin users in the country and I have politicians grandstanding about spice outside my store. What's a bigger issue people stepping on used heroin needles at a park or someone buying spice?"