The DEA announced today that it will temporarily classify five synthetic chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning they have no medical value, a high potential for abuse, and will be illegal to sell, purchase, or use. (Marijuana itself, as many of us are already well aware, is also classified as a Schedule 1 drug).
The move comes after more than a dozen states nationwide have passed bans on the herbal blends, which go by names such as “Spice” and “K2,” and — while advertised as “not for human consumption” — were sold in smoke shops around the country and used by customers as a legal alternative to marijuana. The products generally do not show up on drug tests, but there have been various reports of them causing adverse health effects, including accelerated heart rates, increased blood pressure, and several documented trips to the emergency room.
As I have argued before, the prevalence of these substances is simply another unintended consequence of the government’s irrational prohibition on natural, whole-plant marijuana, which comes with none of the side effects attributed to these chemical knock-offs. The DEA’s ban on the five synthetic versions could take effect in 30 days and last for at least a year, but as I’ve said before, the bans on fake marijuana will ultimately be as ineffective as the ban on real marijuana (used by 17 million Americans monthly, despite its Schedule 1 status) and could lead users and suppliers to begin experimenting with other, possibly more dangerous synthetic variants that mimic marijuana’s effects.
In September, I wrote a more detailed article for the Huffington Post explaining my thoughts on K2 bans. Here’s an excerpt:
All this K2 nonsense is simply one more reason — alongside more important issues like sensible law enforcement, personal liberty, racial justice, and potential tax revenue — why America needs a legal, regulated marijuana market. Whereas the full health effects of K2 are largely unknown because they haven’t been studied, marijuana is perhaps the most studied plant in history — one that a former DEA judge once called “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” In a regulated market, consumers would know exactly what they’re purchasing and putting into their bodies. This is not the case when somebody buys K2 — or one of its various knockoffs — that’s been sprayed onto some mystery plant matter.
I don’t have a solid opinion one way or the other as to whether K2 should be banned or regulated like other drugs. But I do know this: The only reason anyone uses K2 and not marijuana is because K2 is legal and marijuana is not. It’s as simple as that. Make marijuana legal, and few, if any, consumers will waste their time seeking out K2.
It’s for this reason that K2 bans are misguided, because they don’t address the core issue: millions of Americans want to use marijuana, or something that will mimic its effects, and if they’re afraid about illegal means of doing so, they will continue to seek out legal alternatives. In fact, the Associated Press has reported that in states where K2 has been banned, merchants have simply changed its name, altered its chemical makeup slightly, and continued to sell it to customers. That’s right: people in those states are now seeking legal alternatives to the legal alternative to marijuana. And round and round we go.