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Man protests sale of synthetic marijuana

Sunday - 4/22/2012, 2:00am  ET

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Duane Canter, left, was outside Classic Cigars and British Goodies on Saturday in Frederick at 14 N. Market St., urging people to sign a petition to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana. Adding her name to the petition is Mary Jean Clark. (Sam Yu/Frederick News-Post)

Duane Canter wants to draw attention to the sale in local stores of a substance that mimics the effects of marijuana.

He had some success Saturday.

Sporting a sign that read, "Sign the petition, support the ban of synthetic marijuana" and "This British store sells harmful synthetic drugs 'Spice' and 'Flight,'" Canter got 102 people to sign in the four hours he stood outside Classic Cigars and British Goodies on North Market Street in Frederick -- a store that sells the substance, which is labeled as incense.

Joe Cohen, owner of Classic Cigars and British Goodies, said he is doing nothing illegal.

When Canter found out that his 16-year-old son was smoking the synthetic marijuana, he began his fight to ban the sale of it in Frederick County and all of Maryland, he said.

Teenagers smoke the products marketed as Spice, Flight, Black Mamba and K2, and the result can be respiratory, kidney and brain damage, Canter said.

The synthetic's side effects are far more dangerous than those of the marijuana it purports to imitate, Canter said.

"The packaging clearly states, 'Not for Human Consumption,' but the merchants profiting from their sales are fully aware of their intended use," Canter said.

"You might as well be smoking cleaning fluid. Many people who smoke the stuff are not aware that it may contain substances they may be allergic to."

The synthetics are sold online, but Canter said, "We don't need to make it so easy by selling it at our local store, and having it sold on a prominent street in Frederick is one of the things that bothers me."

Frederick resident Karen Miller stopped jogging to sign the petition.

"The fact that it's sold the way it's sold, teens get the message that it's OK," Miller said. "If teens are caught with it, they are fined as if they got caught with tobacco."

Miller, a Frederick County teacher, said students recently listened to a presentation on drinking, texting and talking on the phone while driving. A part of the presentation that included the use of Spice and Flight was so dramatic, several students became sick watching it and had to go the restroom, Miller said.

"It's a shame that people are making money off somebody else's downfall," said Jefferson resident Dave Lease, who signed the petition with his wife, Donna.

Cohen said Canter is picking on a minority store by using the word "British" on his protest sign, when he could be picketing other local establishments that sell the synthetics.

What Canter is doing is not new, Cohen said. The issue has been widely aired in the national media and it fizzled, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration banned synthetic marijuana in March, Cohen said, but the products in his store are not among the FDA's banned substances.

"I do not sell any controlled substances, and I made a decision that for this type of potpourri, I wouldn't sell it to anybody under 18 because we want to protect youth from making decisions they are not able to make on their own," Cohen said.

Drug use is destroying families, Donna Lease said.

"I wonder how much is being passed to children," she said. "Parents who may be using it are feeding it to their children. It's on their hands."

Ijamsville resident Andrew Turman signed the petition but said kids will get drugs anyway and marijuana should be sold over the counter.

The nation's drug use laws are not fair, he said.

"An investment banker steals $3 million and gets three months in jail. You get caught with marijuana and you get three years. Where is the justice in that?"

Legalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement personnel to do other things and free up jail space, Turman said.

"I'm not here petitioning against the legalization of marijuana," Canter said.

Canter's petition called on Frederick County lawmakers to enact a law prohibiting the sale and/or distribution of any product that mimics the effects of marijuana, including synthetic marijuana.

A precedent is being established, he said, as other states write laws in broader language so the manufacturers cannot skirt the law as they have in the past.

This is only the beginning, Canter said. "We'll take one small bite at a time."

Canter said he was surprised that many people had not heard of the products.