Q&A With Missouri Legislator at Forefront of War Against (Fake) Drugs

Ward Franz: Wishes the drug makers would put their talents to good use -- like medical school.
Ward Franz: Wishes the drug makers would put their talents to good use -- like medical school.
Yesterday Daily RFT caught up with State Representative Ward Franz (R-West Plains). A former juvenile officer, Franz has spent much of the past eighteen months leading the charge to outlaw a wave of new designer drugs in Missouri said to mimic the effects of marijuana and other controlled substances.

Last July, Governor Jay Nixon had yet to sign into law Franz's 2010 bill (HB 1472), banning the sale of K2 and other synthetic marijuana products, when drug makers tweaked their formulas ever so slightly to navigate around the new legislation. Today Franz expects the House to pass a similar bill he's sponsoring (HB 641) that adds new chemical compounds to those considered illegal in Missouri and, hopefully, ends the cat-and-mouse game between lawmakers and drug makers.

Daily RFT: Legislating against these new drugs has been described as a game of Wac-A-Mole. You make a law, only for the a new crop of similar drugs to hit the market. Do you anticipate filing a new bill each session to keep up with the manufacturers?

Ward Franz: Hopefully not. I do wish that the people behind these drugs would put their efforts into something good -- like medical school -- instead of trying to skirt the law. That said, I believe that my current bill is broad enough to stay ahead of them.

K2: Gone but not forgotten.
K2: Gone but not forgotten.
How's that?

On the advice to the Highway Patrol we've included subsections on the definition of these drugs, known as synthetic cannabinoids. The new bill makes illegal any analogues or homologues of those drugs. What the people making these drugs have been able to do in the past is change just a molecule or two of the initial chemical. The result is a compound that still gets you high, but isn't defined in the law. That won't be the case anymore.

By synthetic cannabinoids, I assume you're talking about fake marijuana. But what about the fake cocaine that's recently been marketed in Missouri as bath salts?

The new bill addresses those, too, by banning any derivative of a controlled substance. Another way that the drug makers have been getting around the law is by placing labels on the packaging that say the product is "not for human consumption." The new bill addresses that as well. They can no longer abuse that warning.

Ivory Wave is one of the so-called "bath salts" said to produce a cocaine-like high.
Ivory Wave is one of the so-called "bath salts" said to produce a cocaine-like high.
In St. Louis, a lot of these drugs are sold in head shops. Pardon our ignorance, but does West Plains (located twenty miles north of Arkansas in south-central Missouri) have many of those stores?

You'd be surprised. We have a shop where you can buy bongs and these products and smoke them right inside the store. I got involved with this back in November 2009 when it was brought to my attention by law enforcement. I then filed a bill to ban K2 in January 2010. At the time, hardly any one knew what I was talking about. Fake marijuana!? But then media reports about the drugs started coming out and people realized that they are indeed a problem.

Who's making these drugs, and what are they labeled as now that K2 is outlawed?

There are dozens of names for them. I had a law enforcement official bring me some samples. They covered an entire table top. From what I understand, the people selling them are getting the base compound in powder form. They then liquefy the powder and spread it over whatever. We had a guy here in Missouri who filled a hotel bathtub full of potpourri and was mixing it with the chemical. They then package it up and sell it.

Has this year's bill faced much opposition and do you expect it to become law as well?

On Thursday (today) it will be read for the a third time and have a roll call vote. Based on the voice votes earlier on the bill I expect it to pass the House and move onto the Senate. The biggest hurdle -- in my opinion -- is time. The legislative session ends in five weeks, so we'll have to see what the Senate does with it. Hopefully they can get it done in time.