DEA to Criminalize Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana, marketed under a variety of names including “K2” and “Spice,” is typically made of plant materials that are coated with chemicals designed to simulate a marijuana high. The products are typically labeled as incense or potpourri and have been available over the internet, paraphernalia shops and convenience stores for $10 to $20 per gram.

However, possession and distribution of many synthetic marijuana products will soon be a federal crime. Although Georgia and 14 other states have already banned many of the chemicals used in synthetic marijuana, federal authorities had not yet regulated synthetic marijuana.

Amidst reports of poisoning, overdoses and addiction, federal regulators have been studying the drugs and have been considering strictly regulating them or banning them completely. Nevertheless, according to Drug Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Barbara Carreno, “the review process was taking too long.” The DEA decided to use its emergency powers to ban synthetic marijuana.

The federal Controlled Substances Act gives the DEA powers to take emergency action to avoid “imminent hazards to public safety.” Last Wednesday, the DEA released a notice in the Federal Register that it will be classifying five chemicals commonly used in synthetic marijuana as Schedule I controlled substances, the same category as heroin and cocaine. The five chemicals are identified as JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47497, and cannabicyclohexanol.

Federal law requires 30 days before the DEA’s emergency ban can go into effect. After 30 days from the notice, the DEA plans to issue a temporary rule to ban the chemicals. While the temporary rule is in place, federal regulators will study whether a permanent ban should be established. If no further regulatory or legislative action is taken, the ban will expire in 12 months.