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Fake Pot Ban

The Newest Drug War Frontline: Feds move to Ban Fake Pot Products



The Drug Enforcement Agency publicly announced its plans on Wednesday to use its emergency powers to ban fake pot products for at least one year. This move comes directly on the heels of similar legislation enacted by 14 states nationwide and pending legislation in 6 other states.

Synthetic pot products such as those marketed under brand names like K2, Spice, Red X Dawn, and Solar Flare are used by consumers to achieve a state of altered perception similar to that of marijuana. In fact, experts have stated that the compounds used in fake pot products work by mimicking the effects of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol- the active ingredient in naturally-occurring marijuana.

In addition to the high that many users experience, there are also a number of side effects. This can include nausea, disorientation, hallucinations, anxiety, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and paranoia. The DEA’s ban of synthetic pot products was prompted at least in part by increasing numbers of negative reports from hospitals, police agencies, fire departments, and poison control centers. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there have been over 2,000 calls related to symptoms from fake pot products in 2010.

The move to ban synthetic pot by the DEA will take effect in 30 days. After that time, the 5 most widely used compounds in these products will be listed as a Schedule I drug. This is the most serious classification of drugs, and includes substances such as heroin, crack, and cocaine. As a Schedule 1 drug, synthetic marijuana products made with these 5 chemicals will be illegal to possess or sell. Penalties include federal prison sentences and hefty fines.

Synthetic pot manufacturers are outraged over the imposition of this ban, with many claiming that their products are not harmful- despite the fact that most are sold with disclaimers that read: “To be sold as incense only- NOT for human consumption,” or some variation of that warning. Nevertheless, there have been no reported serious injuries and no known fatal cases of fake pot overdoses.

Despite lack of evidence of any serious harm, the federal government maintains that using these unregulated and often unknown compounds could result in severe illness or injury. The DEA has stated that the primary focus of the temporary ban will be to research and conduct tests to determine if the substances should remain illegal, be reclassified, or be re-released to the public market.

In the meantime, the head shops, smoke shops, gas stations and retail outlets where products like Spice and K2 are sold expect a deluge of consumers looking to stock up on the mind-altering substances before the ban goes into effect next month. After that time, many marijuana advocacy groups believe that production of synthetic marijuana will go underground- potentially further eroding the already questionable chemical composition of these products.

Wednesday’s announcement by the DEA included a public posting of a “Notice of Intent to Temporarily Control” in the Federal Register. While this move is seen as hasty by some, there are many others who believe it’s been a long time coming, as the DEA has been investigating synthetic marijuana products (also known as Salvia Divinorum) for nearly a decade without taking any previous action. However, because the ban only lists 5 specific chemicals- JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47497 and cannabicyclohexanl, manufacturers are already offering replacement products that use similar but unbanned chemicals.

At the time this article was published,; one of the most prominent suppliers of the synthetic marijuana product called K2, had the following statement boldly displayed on their homepage: “Two NEW K2 Products, NOT COVERED BY ANY BANS!” In fact, many in the salvia divinorum industry have already dismissed the ban entirely, indicating that new chemical compounds will be created to replace any that are banned. 

However, some groups say that the problem isn’t with synthetic pot at all. Instead, marijuana advocacy groups like NORML have said that the development of potentially dangerous synthetic products have come about as a result of the prohibition of marijuana. NORML contends that if consumers had access to real, safe and natural marijuana, that the regulation and safety issues posed by fake pot products would cease to exist.

Other groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance have publicly stated that the emergency ban on synthetic pot products will only serve to shift the manufacture and distribution of it to the black market, where product composition will be questionable and sources potentially dangerous.

Sales of products like K2 and Red X Dawn are highest among teens, college students, and young adults. Chief among complaints against synthetic marijuana products is that they are advertised to impressionable audiences as safe and legal alternatives to marijuana. While the compounds in the products might currently still be legal at the federal level, 14 states have already banned synthetic pot entirely based upon safety and health concerns: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, and most recently, Michigan. Five other states have pending legislation to ban fake pot: New York, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Of particular concern for many communities is the propensity for military service members, police, and other public safety workers to use the drug without fear of being caught. This is because the 5 current compounds used in synthetic pot are not detectable by traditional laboratory methods. Nevertheless, enforcement amongst public agencies, including the US Navy, has indicated that internal policies have banned use of products like Spice and K2 by members.

The DEA expects little resistance to the ban- at least in part because the agency is aware that the replacement substances are already on the market. Additionally, police enforcement groups have stated concerns that an inability to test for these substances will make enforcement of the ban practically impossible. In the meanwhile, storekeepers have just a few weeks to sell off the old fake pot- and make room for the new stuff.

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