As the K2 synthetic marijuana wave rolls into Tarrant County, municipal officials are looking for ways to control or outlaw the substance as it shows up in head shops and hookah lounges.
At the Mansfield City Council meeting Monday night, dozens of people voiced opposition to the opening of Marley'z Lounge on Main Street. They said they are concerned that the shop, near three schools, will attract criminals and be a bad influence on children.
The herb is named after the K2 mountain in Central Asia, the second-highest in the world, "because of the high it gives people when it is smoked," Mansfield Police Chief Gary Fowler told council members.
City Attorney Allen Taylor said that Marley'z has a valid certificate of occupancy and that city ordinance cannot prevent it from opening solely because of its controversial merchandise, which is legal under state and federal laws.
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But Taylor said the city is exploring options to protect minors from K2. He expects to present a draft ordinance at the June 22 council meeting that would ban the sale or possession of K2 by anyone under 18, an offense punishable by a Class C Misdemeanor citation.
K2 is often billed as "legal marijuana" because the chemical compounds sprayed on the herbs mimic the effect of smoking marijuana. K2 is sold on the Internet, in specialty stores called head shops and in some hookah lounges. The chemical compound is said to be much more potent than THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana.
K2, which looks like cooking herbs or potpourri, is labeled as herbal incense with the disclaimer "not for human consumption, for aromatherapy use only."
Scientists say it is very dangerous because no one knows exactly what chemicals are used on the leaves. Side effects may include hallucinations, vomiting and headaches, but scientists have said there is not enough research on humans or animals to gauge long-term effects.
Because K2 is legal and does not show up on drug tests, young people are eager to try it, law enforcers and drug-abuse experts have said.
"If it was anything positive, you wouldn't purchase it in a head shop," said Della Sapp, 42, of Mansfield, one of several residents who oppose Marley'z Lounge.
"You can't buy K2 at Walmart."
Taylor said Mansfield might have trouble adopting a citywide ban on the sale or possession of K2, which is widely available on the Internet, because the substance is not regulated by federal or state laws.
Mansfield police have pulled over an intoxicated driver who admitted being under the influence of K2 and have also found juveniles in possession of the substance at city parks, Fowler told council members.
The U.S. Army, Kansas and Kentucky have banned K2, and several other states are considering it, according to published reports.
A legal business
Pastor Michael Evans, a school trustee and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, said he believes that Marley'z was intentionally placed near parks and schools to "entice an underage customer base."
"We stand tonight as a united community to ask you to take serious action against these and all other businesses that sell drug paraphernalia in close proximity to our day cares, parks, schools and places of worship," Evans told the council. "We don't want them near our children."
Lounge owner Andies Shepherd said his store will comply with all state and local laws and will serve only customers 18 and older. The lounge, which Shepherd said will have tinted windows and curtains to screen customers from view, is set to serve and sell fine cigars and flavored tobacco, as well as tobacco supplies and music.
"I've heard a lot of criticism, the slander," Shepard said. "I'm trying to run a legitimate, legal business. K2 is not an issue for me. I will get rid of it. I'm not trying to step on anybody's toes or make anybody mad."
Shepherd said he has been "literally heartbroken" to hear his fellow residents accuse him of being uncaring about the welfare of the community's youth. He said he has worked two years on his business plan and invested $8,000 of his savings into the lounge, which he named after his idol, musician Bob Marley.
Shepherd said he will be careful about the advertising he places on the outside of the lounge and will not sell K2 or glass paraphernalia pipes associated with illegal drug use.
Last week, the Allen City Council asked its city attorney to draft an ordinance to ban the sale and use of K2, which was being sold at a hookah lounge. The business has since been closed for code violations, according to news reports.
State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said her staff is drafting a bill to present to the Legislature in January to ban the sale and use of K2 statewide, saying she has heard startling stories from parents in Plano, Allen and McKinney about how the substance has affected their children.
"Once people find out what it is and discover the insidious nature of what it produces, they realize it is something that they don't want in their communities," Shapiro said.
She said her staff will research carefully so the bill can be as comprehensive as possible. Staffers will work closely with the handful of states that have already banned K2 and utilize their laws to make sure they can review it closely, she said.
"We want to make sure we are as inclusive as possible with the chemical compounds so there aren't any loopholes" to its use, she said.
A state law would be a relief to Jim Hudson, chief prosecutor of the Tarrant County district attorney's narcotics unit.
"I think Sen. Shapiro's approach is actually the way to do this because if they rule on that issue and pass a law, it would be good for the entire state," he said. "I think going that route would solve our problems because all counties would be covered by that law."
SUSAN SCHROCK, 817-390-7639
ELIZABETH ZAVALA, 817-390-7418