NORFOLK -- Synthetic marijuana is banned in Virginia, but drug makers are slightly altering 'spice' to skirt the law and openly market in stores and online.
"They want to make money so they try to stay one step ahead of the law," Norfolk attorney Pete Decker III told 13News Now.
The Virginia code banning synthetic marijuana includes dozens of banned substances, but criminals are coming up with new chemicals that aren't on the list. As a result, some people who are caught doing the drug, don't face any punishment.
In Virginia Beach, about 20 people faced charges for doing spice between 2011 and 2013. About half of those cases were dismissed because no illegal substances were detected in the lab report.
"That's how we, as defense attorneys, are fighting this. We will ask for a lab report, they send it up to Richmond. The lab is backed up. It takes couple months to get the report back, and if the substances that are in the spice aren't on that banned list, then we can move for a dismissal," Decker explained.
An undercover Hampton police detective told 13News Now how challenging it is to enforce the spice law.
"Unless we have a knowledge that their spice contains something illegal we normally don't make an arrest at that time. We seize the spice and we send it off to the lab to see the chemical makeup," the detective said.
In 2011, Virginia lawmakers banned spice and specific chemicals used to make the drug. The next year, criminals came up with new substances to avoid the law. So, in 2013, state leaders added a phrase to the law that also makes it illegal to imitate spice.
But as Decker explained, that's not holding up in court either.
"The Commonwealth has to bring in experts that can prove that these banned substances have the same effect as those listed under our state code, and that's hard to do," Decker said.
This year, House bill 1112 proposes to ban more new chemicals used to make spice.
As drug makers continue to alter the formula, experts say spice could become more addictive and powerful.
"These chemicals are not all scientifically studied. So the dangerous part is you don't know what will happen, until someone tries it," Linda Jackson, director of the state forensics department said.