Customers trying to buy the herbal mixture K2 left the local store Sacred Journey empty-handed Friday morning.
The store, 1103 Mass., was out of stock; demand for K2 has risen after Kansas legislators announced they would work to ban the substance. Some law enforcement officials have compared K2 to marijuana.
“At first it was just word of mouth, but a lot of news agencies picked up on it and within a month ... just a lot of business,” said Sacred Journey employee Matthew Rader. “It was not uncommon for (the line) just snaking around the store.”
Rader is among those speaking out against moves to ban K2 and similar products.
A Senate committee on Wednesday recommended approval of a bill that would make the chemical found in K2 illegal. The House has a similar bill, with a hearing on the issue Tuesday.
Legislative changes have been prompted by law enforcement, including Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern, who spoke at Wednesday’s committee hearing. Those opposed to the substance have said it may pose health risks as the active chemical in K2 is a synthetic version of marijuana, although the substance doesn’t show up on drug tests.
Depending on the variety, K2 costs between $15 and $30 for a three-gram bag. While Sacred Journey was out of K2, store employees were offering customers a different product they say is similar to the popular brand. Employees at the store said they only sell K2 and similar “ethnobotanical” products to people age 18 and older.
Despite the characterizations of K2 as harmful, Rader said employees at the store haven’t heard of any ill effects.
“Being that we’ve sold it for months and months now, we don’t see any sort of short-term or long-term effects in any of the people who buy this,” he said. The store markets K2 as an incense, not as a smokable herb, said Rader, but he acknowledged that customers smoke K2.
David Barnhill, a local musician, said he’s smoked the substance, which looks like potpourri, several times. It’s a little different from marijuana, he said, but it does have some intoxicating effects, such as disorientation.
Barnhill said his main concern with K2 is that there is far less known about the substance than marijuana.
“Healthwise, I don’t know,” said Barnhill, who tried to buy K2 Friday.
There seems to be a lot of interest in information about the substance. A Nov. 4 Journal-World article on K2 generated about 20,000 views on LJWorld.com, with roughly 40 percent of those coming from Google searches.
It’s a lack of information about K2 that has Patrick Wilbur, executive director of the Kansas-based Drug Policy Forum, concerned about recent moves to ban the substance.
“Nobody seems to know anything about it. It’s really difficult to get information,” he said.
Wilbur said he was also concerned about the possible effects of making K2 illegal.
“You make it more desirable for minors (by banning it),” said Wilbur. “(And) you create a black market.”
Rader said he and several store employees will head to the Capitol on Tuesday to fight the bill, and they’ve gathered more than 1,500 signatures from those opposing a ban.
“It’s a witch hunt in every sense of the word,” he said. “We’re not going to take this sitting down.”