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Chicago moves to ban synthetic marijuana after mother’s plea

Margaret Rios holds phoher grandsMax Dobner as she others picket outside Cigarettes Hut Saturday. Picketers were calling for boycott store

Margaret Rios holds a photo of her grandson, Max Dobner, as she and others picket outside Cigarettes Hut on Saturday. Picketers were calling for a boycott of the store due to its sale of a synthetic substance that Karen Dobner blames contributed to a car crash that killed her son in June. Jeff Cagle / For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 16, 2011 8:12AM



An emotional plea from the mother of a 19-year-old who died in a high-speed crash after using synthetic marijuana on Monday convinced a City Council committee to ban the legal product in Chicago.

On June 14, Max Jacob Dobner went to the Fox Valley Mall and purchased a synthetic marijuana product known as Potpourri specifically marketed to get around a state law that was supposed to ban synthetic marijuana.

Dobner then suffered a heart-pounding panic attack, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations before getting behind the wheel and driving 100 mph into a house.

On Monday, Karen Dobner, Jacob’s mother, appeared before the City Council’s Finance Committee to describe the fatal accident that killed her beloved son.

“I received a phone call — the worst phone call of my life, the worst moment of my life. I was told that my son had a car accident and had died,” Dobner said.

“Max was by far the finest human being I have ever met in my whole life. I thank the Lord every day that he was mine. He was the voice of reason, maturity, the most non-judgmental and giving and kind human being. ... He didn’t do drugs. [But] apparently ... he had a conversation with his friends and they had decided that, since it was legal, it must be safe — and that is what has spurred my battle to make sure that this stuff gets pulled off the shelf.”

Dobner urged the City Council to protect other young people from making the same mistake her son did. She called synthetic marijuana a $10 billion industry in the United States.

“Every day, I hear from people who have horrific experiences and they come out of it and say, ‘I thought it was safe because it was legal and it’s sitting on the shelf and they’re selling it. If marijuana is illegal, this must be safer.’ Well, it’s not. It’s poison sprayed on leaves,” she said.

Karen Dobner noted that there are over 1,000 manufacturers of synthetic marijuana and over 400 chemicals being used on their products.

“Basically what that means is you have a bunch of kids who are spraying chemicals they buy from China. There’s no scientific regulation. There’s nothing. ...You can smoke this stuff 20 times and be fine and, on the 21st time is when you go crazy,” she said.

“The DEA says of all the packages they’ve ever tested, no two have ever been alike. So you don’t know what you’re getting. You don’t know what chemical and you don’t know what potency. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a mild dose. And if you’re not lucky, you’re gonna get what my son got.”

The ordinance co-sponsored by aldermen Edward M. Burke (14th) and Matt O’Shea (19th) and advanced by the Finance Committee targets products tailor-made to circumvent a state law that took effect on Jan. 1.

It would ban the sale of all types of synthetic marijuana sold in Chicago. Violators would face fines ranging from $500-to-$1,000 for each offense. They could also have their business license revoked.

“It’s not just kids that are doing this. Adults are getting addicted to this stuff and families are getting broken up. People are losing their jobs over it. It’s amazing. I don’t think that the mainstream public understands the kind of potential this has for tragedy,” Burke said.

The chairman noted that the state’s ban was written to outlaw specific chemicals and, “The producers are able to evade the law by replacing the illegal chemical with legal alternatives.”



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