“K2” is back. Well, kind of.
The smokable synthetic substance that produces a marijuana-like high was outlawed in Kansas and a dozen other states this year. But crafty chemists have been able to alter the chemical components enough to create legal substitutes, which go by such names as “Heaven Scent,” “K3” or “Syn.”
Micah Riggs, who owns the store Coffee Wonk in Kansas City, Mo., said the K2 substitutes became a hot commodity — maybe even more so than the original K2 — after Missouri banned the chemicals in K2 earlier this year. Riggs even says the substitutes produce a smoother and stronger high.
But the newer substances don’t appear to be available in Lawrence.
Employees at the local store Sacred Journey — which was at the center of the K2 debate in Kansas — said they don’t sell any of the newer versions of K2.
K2 was a hot item at Sacred Journey — with eager customers forming lines around the block — before the substance was banned in March. The store was also raided by federal agents in the weeks before K2 was made illegal. The owner of Bouncing Bears Botanicals in Oskaloosa, which supplied Sacred Journey with K2, was charged in Jefferson County Court with various charges related to the manufacture of illegal substances following a raid of his warehouse. Those charges, however, have since been dropped.
‘Not on the radar’
Despite the wide availability of the new substance across the state line, it hasn’t been seen by local law enforcement yet.
“They have not seen it on the street and it’s not on the radar,” said Sgt. Steve Lewis of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern was a strong proponent of banning K2, and he spoke at several of the legislative hearings.
Before 2009, K2 — which went by various brand names— was virtually unheard of. Kansas was the first state to ban the compound — JWH-018 — found in K2, and a dozen other states followed suit. The bill, signed by Gov. Mark Parkinson in March, added the compound to the Kansas Uniform Controlled Substance Act.
But with ease, manufacturers are creating legal versions of K2.
The modified K2 versions are popping up near the campus of the University of Missouri, and Columbia police say there isn’t much they can do about it. The presence of substances made with the new compound even makes it more difficult to enforce the laws against the banned versions.
For starters, it’s “nearly impossible” to identify K2 without its label or advanced chemical testing, said Jill Weineke, spokeswoman for the Columbia police.
That makes it especially difficult to weed out the illegal versions from the newer, legal ones.
Enforcing the new laws isn’t high on their priority list, and Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton says there doesn’t appear to be a fix to the problem as long as the chemistry stays a few steps ahead of the law.
“When they’re constantly changing the chemical makeup, we’ll be constantly chasing our tails,” he said.