It's called spice, K-2, synthetic marijuana.
Virginia outlawed it more than a year ago- but the chemists who make it keep concocting new ways to skirt the law. Our investigative unit went undercover and found new variations of the product being openly sold in greater Richmond.
It's advertised as incense or potpourri.
Manufacturers even tell you that it's not for human consumption, but we've found countless videos online of people smoking it, and witnessed for ourselves a Hopewell store selling it.
Synthetic marijuana became illegal in Virginia in 2011. Federal officials have even banned certain chemicals used to make it.
It looks like pot. The manufacturers spray the herbs with compounds that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana.
It's smoked to get high- but some users have experienced vomiting, seizures, anxiety even hallucinations.
"I remember going through hell. I thought I was already deceased. I thought I was dead," said 15 year old Gloucester teen Adam Hedrick. He says he smoked spice and it sent him to the hospital-- foaming at the mouth in cardiac arrest.
"If there was something they could do to save lives just by taking a product off their shelves then they should do that," said Hedrick's mom Julie.
After a tip from a viewer, we went to check out the Golden Express on South 15th Avenue in Hopewell. We watched a woman buy 'Zombie Matter'. She showed it to us in the store's parking lot and said she was going home to smoke it.
We took a hidden camera into the store-
the product is not advertised at the cash register. The store keeps it in a drawer behind the counter.
And they'll sell it- if you know what to ask for.
The Golden Express sold us Zombie Matter- After Dark.
On the product's website the manufacturer says it's 100% legal, but when you the read the fine print it says legal in some states.
We came back to the store with camera's rolling- to ask what exactly clerks are selling.
RACHEL DEPOMPA: "We got a tip to our newsroom that you guys are selling spice still."
CLERK: "No, we don't sell."
THE CLERK ON DUTY TOLD US HE SELLS NOTHING LIKE SPICE AT HIS STORE.
RACHEL DEPOMPA: "But somebody just bought it, a lady just bought it?"
CLERK: HMMM HMMM. But we have nothing in the spices right here. Don't call it spice. It's illegal. Illegal, ok? Spice is illegal ok?"
RACHEL- "So this is different?"
CLERK: "Can you stop the camera please."
"It is certainly disappointing and discouraging that there are people who are still willing to sell it," said State Senator Mark Herring (D- Loudoun). He says he wrote Virginia's synthetic marijuana law, after hearing from parents across the state who's kids were ending up in the hospital.
According to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana is the second most popular drug of choice for high schoolers.
"One of the problems that we found that was because it was legal, there were a lot of people who thought it was safe. And in fact, these type of designer drugs can have very profound health impacts," said Herring.
After the law was passed- prosecution of large spice busts around the states quickly hit roadblocks- there are potentially hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids that makers could substitute for the banned ones- and that's exactly what has happened.
Virginia's forensic lab tested 468 spice samples last year and only 22%, that's less than one in four, came back positive for banned substances.
Chesterfield Police targeted the designer drug, arresting 57 people in the last year and a half.
We dug through the court records and of those cases, more than half were dropped or dismissed. Only 5 people in Chesterfield have actually been convicted for possession of synthetic marijuana.
"The people who manufacture this and the people who are selling it know the purpose for which it's being used for. They shouldn't be doing it," said Herring.
The General Assembly just tightened the law one more time making it so a small change in the molecular structure of spice could still fall within the statute and be criminal.
The update to the law went into effect July 1st and has yet to be tested in a courtroom.
Under Virginia law, those caught selling synthetic marijuana could be charged with a felony and face one to five years in prison.
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