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Concerns arise about local youth and synthetic marijuana

When Mike Johnson’s 16-year-old son had to be taken to the hospital after smoking a substance known to many as synthetic marijuana, Johnson decided it was time to take a stand.
“I know kids are doing it by their own choice, but it is our job to protect them from this kind of stuff,” said Johnson, a Gray resident. “I don’t think parents realize what it is or how widespread the use of it is.”
The substance, known best by the brand name K2, is legally sold as incense. Product packaging includes a disclaimer stating it is “not for human consumption.”
But it appears a main use for the product is just that.
“I know the kids are smoking it,” Johnson said. “And it’s being packaged to appeal to children.”
After smoking K2, Johnson’s son, a student at Daniel Boone High School, remained at an area hospital overnight for observation after exhibiting apparent side effects from the substance. Following his release, the teen and his father began a campaign to bring more awareness to the uses of K2.
“We’re very fortunate that he didn’t die. But nobody knows what it has done to him. We don’t know how it has affected his brain,” Johnson said. “Now, my son really wants to stand up to this. It is being used rampantly in the schools by children.”
According to Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes, the school system is aware of K2 and its potential uses.
“We treat it exactly the same as marijuana even if it is a legal product,” Dykes said. “We have had some suspensions all throughout the system because of K2. I think we’ve had around seven cases dealing with this product over the last year.”
While Dykes said he would not call the problem “rampant,” he said it is a “concern of mine.”
“It is in the middle schools, not just the high schools. We’ve had a few children at that level suspended for it,” Dykes said. “State legislators need to step up and deal with any type of drugs in this category.”
Several Gray residents agree. They appeared before the Washington County Public Safety Committee during a called meeting last week to ask for support in getting such products banned across the state.
Several community members also took aim at a new business on Bobby Hicks Highway in Gray that sells K2. Ultimate Smoke, which also sells tobacco products and items commonly considered drug paraphernalia, opened in Gray in late October.
Since then, nearby resident Patti Wool-dridge says she has seen a lot of “strange people” walking through her neighborhood.
“I’ve lived here for 12 years. People wanted to move to Gray because it is a nice community. Now we’re having problems,” Wooldridge said. “It’s terrible, the string of people starting to come down the streets now. This store is going to destroy our community. It’s already begun.”
Commissioner Mark Larkey, who is not a member of the Public Safety Committee, also spoke against the business.
“The type of business we are discussing here, they do not provide the goods and services we want in our community,” Larkey said. “If we tolerate this type of retail business, all it does is encourage more severe activity. We have a lot at stake here. As commissioners, it is our duty to take a stand.”
The meeting of the Public Safety Committee was called after Commissioner Roger Nave, chairman of the committee, was approached by a concerned parent whose child had smoked K2, reportedly purchased at Ultimate Smoke.
“The outcry of the people from Gray is that they are agitated about what is going on,” Nave said. “This is a pressing public health concern.”
The State of Tennessee already has a ban on synthetic marijuana, but those who make the substance are able to get around the ban simply by changing one ingredient in the product, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Officer Capt. Shawn Judy.
At the request of the Public Safety Committee, County Attorney John Rambo agreed to draft a resolution requesting the Tennessee General Assembly find a way to effectively ban synthetic drugs, as well as drug paraphernalia, across the state.