|Photo: City Pages|
The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday said it will ban five chemicals used to produce so-called “synthetic marijuana,” making the product illegal to sell or possess in the United States.
“The owners of the head shops and the convenience stores that sell these products have no less than 30 days to clear their shelves,” said DEA special agent Terri K. Wyatt, reports Chance Welch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The “fake pot” products will be illegal in another month as the DEA is taking emergency action to ban the chemicals used to make them, report Pierre Thomas and Lisa Jones of ABC News.
“Over the past year, smokable herbal blends marketed as being ‘legal’ and providing a marijuana-like high, have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults,” the DEA said in a Wednesday news release.
The five chemicals used to make fake pot weakly mimic THC, an active ingredient in marijuana, and are not approved for human consumption. They have been sold as “incense” to bypass rules surrounding products meant to be consumed.
While synthetic marijuana does produce a high, it is short-acting, typically around 30 minutes, and does not produce the munchies as does marijuana. It will also, unlike real pot, give you a splitting headache if you mix it with alcohol.
According to the DEA, products like Spice, K2, Blaze, and Red X Dawn are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose.
The DEA-proposed ban will put the chemicals in Schedule I, the same category as heroin and marijuana, more restrictive than cocaine, which is Schedule II. It will take effect in 30 days and last at least a year, in all likelihood remaining permanent.
Schedule I drugs are federally defined as substances which have a high potential for addiction and no accepted medical uses.
The herbal “incense” blends are currently available in smoke shops, convenience stores and on the Internet.
“Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that ‘fake pot’ is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case,” said Michele Leonhart, acting DEA administrator, reports Justin Blum at Bloomberg. “Today’s action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products.”
The DEA published a notice in today’s Federal Register saying that it intends to ban the chemicals. After 30 days, the DEA plans to post a rule to “temporarily control” the chemicals for at least 12 months, according to the statement.
During that time, the Department of Health and Human Services said it “plans to study” whether the chemicals should be permanently banned. Don’t hold your breath, because so far, they’ve never changed about banning a substance once it goes on the “bad list.”
At least 15 states have acted to ban one or more of the five chemicals targeted by the DEA, which have names like JWH-018 (the most common) and JWH-200. The other targeted chemicals are JWH-073, CP-47,497 and cannabicyclohexanol, reports Keegan Hamilton at Riverfront Times.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) this month sent a letter to Leonhart asking for synthetic marijuana to be banned, saying use of the substances was reaching “epidemic proportions” in his state.
The DEA claims that use of fake pot has prompted visits to emergency rooms and more than 1,500 calls to poison control centers.
By Wednesday afternoon, the DEA’s notice had already attracted supporters and detractors, reports the Star-Telegram.
Opponents of the move include Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance. Smith said that instead of criminalizing the chemicals and products, the DPA favors studying the chemicals, banning their sale to minors and requiring proper product labeling.
“Criminalizing this outright will not only lead to more people being prosecuted and jailed for non-violent crimes but will also cede control of the market to criminals instead of regulating it for sale,” Smith said.
Smith also said that government control of the chemicals will limit the amount of research that can be done.
“Because it’s Schedule I, the government decides who researches it and for what reasons,” Smith said.
“These products are a predictable outgrowth of criminal marijuana prohibition,” said Paul Armentano with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), reports Ryan Grim at Huffington Post.
“As prohibition is apt to do, it has driven the production of a commodity into the hands of unregulated, unknown dealers, driven up the potency of the commodity, and in doing so created a scenario where the consumer is faced with a potentially greater health risk than they would be had they simply had the legal choice to use the product they actually desired, in this case cannabis,” Armentano said.
“Given that most manufacturers of these products are overseas and not subject to U.S. laws and regulations, it is unlikely that the DEA’s action will in any way halt the dissemination, use or misuse of these products among the public,” Armentano said.
Those who supported the measure included Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), who spoke in favor of the move on Wednesday.
“I commend the DEA for using their emergency scheduling authority to protect public health by keeping these substances away from young people,” Kerlikowske said. “Until the risks associated with ingesting these products and chemicals can be studied and understood, there is no place for them on the shelves of any legitimate business.”
The new publicity will likely only stoke demand and increase interest in the fake pot, reports the Huffington Post. K2incense.org already boasts that was “featured on Fox News.”