SYNTHETIC POT: Police Helpless To Stop Sale

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Three Des Moines teens were hospitalized after smoking synthetic marijuana, including one who went into cardiac arrest and another who is apparently addicted to it.  And police are helpless to do much about it.

Shawn Veith of Des Moines says her 17-year old son's addiction to synthetic marijuana is tearing her family apart.  She found him passed out in the basement Friday night after smoking the stuff.

"I started flipping out on her and she said I was all out of it.  So she called the paramedics and the cops came and they brought me to the hospital." 17 year old Jonas McLeod says,   "The next morning I really didn't remember a lot of it."

And, remarkably, even after blacking out and going to the hospital..Jonas is still smoking it.  "I still had a little.  Finished it off and then...I don't know."  he said.

Last night, Jonas' family wrestled a package of it away from him.

"He was very violent when that happened. " Veith said, "Because he couldn't get that high in there."

"Messes you up." Jonas added, "I mean for me it feels like you're in a different world.  A whole new world.  Sometimes it can make you feel good and then the other times it can make you feel like you're dying."

Jonas says getting the synthetic marijuana is easy.  So we went to the Shop N Save on Northwest Second, where Jonas says he buys the stuff.  He says it's kept hidden under the counter.  The owner insisted she doesn't sell it, but refused to let us look under the counter for ourselves.

Two years ago, the legislature outlawed six of the chemicals used in making synthetic marijuana.  But that isn't working.  Manufacturers just change the basic chemical make-up and it becomes legal again.  Sellers keep it hidden under the counter..and sell it for cash only so there's no record.   Police can't even test for it the way they can test other drugs like meth and has to be sent to the state lab...and that takes weeks.  As a result, since the legislation was passed, only two people in Des Moines have been charged with selling illegal synthetic marijuana.  Most of the time police don't even go after them.

"These are misdemeanor crimes, currently on the code book and frankly if you're a prosecutor and you are law enforcement unfortunately misdemeanor a lot of times falls lower on your priority list." says Steve Lukan with the Governor's Office of Drug Control,  "You focus on the felonies."

The state is working on legislation that would increase penalties, but that takes time.  And with his addiction, time is something Jonas might not have.

"And it's tearing me apart," his mother says, " know I'm scared he's going to die and he's not going to wake up."

To learn more about synthetic marijuana and how it is made and sold, click here.