JEFFERSON CITY - The effort in the General Assembly to make Missouri the first state to ban synthetic marijuana hit a slight roadblock on Monday in the House, but the bill's sponsor said he still expects the drug known as K2 to be outlawed.
The House Rules Committee had been expected to vote on the legislation sponsored by Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains. Its language is similar to that of a bill introduced by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and discussed in committee last week. However, Franz said the House committee had mistakenly classified some of the other drugs included in the bill and it would need to be edited in the next week.
"I was lobbying for us to put the bill out and have it fixed on the House floor," Franz said. "However, that proved to be impossible, so we've gotta go back and change some things."
Like Schaefer's bill, Franz's legislation would add nearly a dozen drugs, including 1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole, which is the scientific classification for K2, to the state's Schedule I classification for drugs. Possession of the drug would be a misdemeanor, similar to marijuana, which has different penalties for possession over and under 35 grams.
The committee, of which Franz is not a member, voted 10 to 0 to send the bill back to the original committee. Franz said that would include adding some provisions from a similar bill introduced by Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, a former police chief for Kimmswick in Jefferson County.
Franz said he thought the bill would come up again in next Monday's committee hearing and be passed at that time. The Rules Committee's chairman, a former sheriff in southwest Missouri, was also supportive and said he would make sure the legislation makes it to a full House vote.
"I'll be passing this bill out as soon as I get it," Rep. Michael Parson, R-Bolivar, said. "I'm an ex-law enforcement officer, and I feel very strongly on this."
Franz said he hadn't heard of any opposition to the bill, but one committee member said he is staunchly against it. Rep. Mark Burnett, D-Kansas City, said there was no rush for Missouri to be the first to ban K2, especially when its effects are so unclear.
"I think we ought not be banning things that are out on the fringes when there's no proof of what the harm is," said Burnett, who added that he thinks marijuana is currently misclassified as having no medical benefit. "Just because it has some psychoactive stuff in it doesn't mean we ought to ban it."
The bill has received support from House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and Republicans hold majorities on the Rules Committee and in both chambers of the General Assembly. However, Burnett said he thought the session would end in May before the K2 legislation could be passed.
"We've got so many more important issues ahead of us," Burnett said. "The people who are pushing this are grandstanding about being tough on crime. Once they get their moment in the sun, this will go away."
Franz disagreed, saying that multiple law enforcement officials have told him, like Schaefer, that K2 is a dangerous narcotic. He also said he thinks the bill will be passed, saying that the heads of all the pertinent committees the bill would need to go through to pass have shown support.
Still, he added, he does worry that K2 could stay legal for another year if either his or Schaefer's bill runs into any more procedural issues. He said, though, that it has been a pretty fast run towards banning K2, a substance he hadn't heard of until last fall.
"It's always in your mind when bills get held up that they could die without a vote," Franz said. "But I had no idea that this K2 stuff would get as big as it has around here. I think if we can get the bill to the House floor in the next two weeks we will be all set."