COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's public health agency on Friday warned stores that sell mind-altering "bath salts" and synthetic marijuana that the substances are now illegal and that possession soon will bring state charges.
The board that oversees the Department of Health and Environmental Control is expected to track actions Friday by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which classified the main substances used to make bath salts and fake marijuana as illegal drugs.
The state board will meet via teleconference Monday to reflect those designations, allowing state law enforcement agencies to immediately begin arresting people for possession.
Stores are encouraged to turn over inventories to local law enforcement agencies, spokesman Adam Myrick said.
"People need to understand it's illegal now. It will be illegal on a state level Monday afternoon," he said. "They need to be off the shelves. At the moment of their vote, it instantly becomes state law."
The federal agency's move Friday gave arresting authority to U.S. officers, he noted.
That action also made it easier on state health officials, who were already working on an emergency regulation to ban the chemicals found in synthetic drugs that law enforcement officials say are sweeping the state.
Legislators, who return in January, are expected to put the ban into state law, which could broaden the specific compounds that the DEA classified as illegal. Proposals to do so are already in the legislative process.
Bath salts are a stimulant that can mimic the effects of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as "K2" or "Spice," is sold as blends of herbs and plant materials coated with chemicals -- most of which were created by a Clemson University scientist for research purposes in the 1990s -- that produce a euphoric feeling when smoked. The compounds were never tested on humans.
Law enforcement officers across the state have been demanding action against the drugs, which they say present a health hazard to the teens and young people who buy them at about $25 a package. Some retailers have opted on their own to stop selling the products.
Despite its benign street names, synthetic marijuana has recently proven lethal in South Carolina. This month, a 19-year-old basketball player at Anderson University died after ingesting JWH-018, a chemical used to make the drug.
Coroner Greg Shore said Lamar Jack complained of cramps and vision problems before collapsing during a preseason workout. Jack died days later from acute drug toxicity and multiple organ failure.
At least half a dozen cities and counties in South Carolina, including Moncks Corner, already have passed their own bans, imposing civil penalties for anyone caught selling, making or possessing the drugs, which are sold at a variety of gas stations and other novelty shops.