Synthetic marijuana debuts in Cape Region

December 28, 2010

Evan Mock used to smoke pot. He used to deal it, too, and he spent 10 months in Sussex Correctional Institution as a result. Having sworn off marijuana, Mock says he has a new smoke: a blend of herbs misted with a synthetic – and perfectly legal, though a government ban looms – cannabinoid, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

“A lot of people want to get high, but they don’t want to be in trouble,” he said. “They’re trying to do the right thing, but at the same time, they still want to have that pleasure.”

Mock smokes and sells his own blend, which he calls Dex Cloud Incense, manufactured at his home in Lewes. He places dried and shredded marshmallow leaf and damiana flower on a tray and mists it with a mixture of cannabinoid compound JWH-018 and acetone. The acetone evaporates, leaving JWH-018 dried on the herbs.

Mock said he gets the chemical from a trusted provider, though he wouldn’t share the name for proprietary reasons. When he smoked marijuana, Mock said, it made him feel lethargic and apathetic. Dex Cloud sharpens his attention, he said, and he regularly smokes it before punching the clock as a server at a local restaurant.

It is incense, he said, meant to be burned, not smoked. He adopts a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do philosophy when selling to his clients in Sussex County.

“The regular way to use it is to use an incense burner with charcoal and put loose incense on top,” he said, not in a cigar, cigarette or pipe. Should his clients choose to smoke Dex Cloud – something he can’t control, Mock said – they should take care not to smoke too much. They could hallucinate, or get “stuck,” becoming paranoid, confused and panicky.

For Mock, Dex Cloud is a new leaf in more ways than one. He sees it as a chance for him to make a buck without risking jail time.

“I did time for stupidity,” he said. “I liked money, and marijuana is a fast cash source. Nine out of 10 times, you can sell it to the person sitting next to you. I want that to be the same way with K2.”

Federal scrutiny, local wariness

Not everyone has such a sympathetic view. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is set to ban several synthetic cannabinoids, including JWH-018, for one year, starting Saturday, Dec. 25. One K2 vendor website urges shoppers to stock up before Dec. 24, advertising fire-sale prices to liquidate stock before the ban goes into effect.

Several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Oregon and Hawaii, have already banned some of the synthetic cannabinoids. All varieties are still legal in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, meaning Mock can smoke Dex Cloud anywhere on Delmarva.

The cannabinoid compound was created by Dr. John Huffman, a Clemson University professor, in 1995. In a recent interview with the Charleston City Paper, Huffman said the compound was created for scientific research, not recreational use. But in 2004, the substance surfaced in London, branded as Spice; the K2 brand is a more recent manifestation.

Mock said he learned of K2 from a friend serving in the U.S. Army, who smoked the herbs because synthetic cannabinoids, unlike marijuana, won’t show up on a drug screening. When the DEA bans JWH-018, Mock said, Dex Cloud will switch to AM-2201, which he claims is smoother and more aromatic.

According to local authorities, K2 is new to the Cape Region. Last summer, two Rehoboth Beach police officers confronted Mock as he smoked a pipe of what they thought was marijuana. After he explained what he was smoking, Mock said, he offered to sell some to the officers.

“Why not? It’s legal,” he said. “It’s something for them to do.”

Rehoboth Det. William Sullivan said that was his department’s first contact with K2. Since then, he said, there have been a few reports of people smoking the incense.

“There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it right now,” he said. “Anytime anyone wants to ingest chemicals, it’s a concern,” he said. “Alcohol and coffee generally aren’t made up in a lab.”

If the General Assembly were to consider legislation banning synthetic cannabinoids, he said, his department would be wholeheartedly on board.

“It’s only a matter of time,” he said.

The Dewey Beach Police Department is also familiar with Mock and Dex Cloud. Dewey officers recently pulled Mock over for expired registration tags and found plenty of his product in the car – as well as a gram of marijuana.

Mock said someone put marijuana in one of his Dex Cloud capsules without his knowledge or consent.

“It wasn’t even supposed to be on me,” he said. “I know somebody put something in it.”

With the exception of Dex Cloud, synthetic cannabinoids are rare in Dewey, said Sgt. Cliff Dempsey. Its scarcity makes sense, he said.

“It’s not cost-effective,” he said, “when someone can go out and buy a gram of marijuana for probably half the price. The effects are longer, and it’s a cheaper high. From what I hear about K2, it’s just not the same.”

At least one person agrees. A Cape Region resident in his early 20s, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he’s smoked K2 about five times and came away unimpressed.
“It was kind of lackluster, if you will,” he said. “It didn’t get the job done as well, you know? If I was going to spend my money on something, it would actually be weed, not K2.”

More than the dull high, he said, the synthetic nature of K2 and other brands turns him off.
“I know weed can have chemicals sprayed on it,” he said. “That’s something people talk about. But the fact that K2 is pretty much manufactured is just kind of a turnoff.”

While Mock maintains faith in Dex Cloud, he agrees with Dempsey on one count – for the seller, synthetic cannabinoids are often more expensive than marijuana. And after the DEA ban forces him to switch up chemicals, it’s only going to get more expensive.

In defense of K2

Mock called the ban hypocritical. The government will ban synthetic cannabinoids, he said, but allows the sale of alcohol.

“That kills more people than K2 does,” Mock said. “I’ve never heard of anyone smoking K2 and beating their wife, you know?”

Mock suggested regulation and taxation of synthetic cannabinoids could actually give the economy a much-needed boost. His customers are more diverse than one might think, he said, telling the story of how he once sold a gram to a 67-year-old man.

With the DEA ban looming, Mock said he doesn’t see much sense in getting a business license to sell Dex Cloud privately. He said he sold it through a Boardwalk business last summer, where he was employed as a henna tattoo artist, writing receipts of his incense sales. His business is currently online-based, and he’s trying to feed Dex Cloud into Cape Region retailers. Dragon’s Lair, an adult novelty shop with stores in Lewes and Oak Orchard, sells synthetic cannabinoids, including K2.

Mock sees himself as more than a peddler. He’s an advocate, ready to debate anyone on the pros and cons of keeping synthetic cannabinoids legal.

“Any politicians out there who want to debate me, they can,” he said. “Bring scientific evidence showing it’s going to hurt you.” The bravado is more than a front; Mock said he plans to run for public office in 2012.

“I wanted to go for president, but I’m too young,” he cracked. Despite his lengthy rap sheet, he said he isn’t afraid to put himself in the public sphere.

“Everybody should be given a second chance,” he said. “Well, not everybody, but nine out of 10 times you should be able to show people you’re trying to do right.”