Prohibition Fails Again: Banned 'Spice' (Fake Pot) Makes a Sneaky Comeback, Reactionary Lawmakers Can't Even Prosecute Dealers

Amid a media frenzy preying on Reefer-Madness-like anecdotes of bad synthetic drug experiences, legislators across the country banned many drugs they knew little about. Now, months after dozens of states forbade synthetic marijuana and bath salts (meth-like uppers), and just weeks after the House voted overwhelmingly to criminalize more than 40 chemicals found in these drugs, the Washington Post reports "Spice [fake pot] is back."  Back with a vengeance: the laws prohibitionists put into place are not only ineffective, but backfiring: They are creating new drugs and making it difficult even to arrest the very criminals the legislation created.  

According to the Post

 Spice manufacturers, who spray herbs with compounds that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana, have altered their recipes just enough to skirt the bans and are again openly marketing spice in stores and on the Web. Some users report that the new generation of products could be more potent than the original formulas, which have sickened hundreds nationwide and been linked to deaths.

So, fake pot is still available. What's more, enforcing the law by prosecuting the drug's dealers has proven difficult, exemplifying poor planning on behalf of lawmakers.

According to the Post,

Virginia lawmakers anticipated that spicemakers might switch formulas, so they included a provision in the law that controls chemicals intended to act in a similar fashion as the banned ones. 

But it doesn't work:

...prosecutions of three of the largest spice busts in Virginia — including one in Falls Church — have hit roadblocks because the spice that police seized does not contain banned chemicals listed in state law. Authorities in Florida, Indiana, Illinois and Alaska have encountered similar problems.


State scientists say they cannot offer testimony to juries to prove reformulated spice is similar to the original versions — not enough is known about the compounds.

“There’s not enough foundational research done on these chemicals on which to base our testimony,” said Linda Jackson, a chemistry program manager for the state lab.

But Congress is not moving toward research, and may actually put a huge obstacle in the way of studying these chemicals instead. A bipartisan majority in the House recently passed HR 1254,  a new bill that, if passed by the Senate, would put dozens of new, poorly understood chemicals into Schedule I, where research is difficult because it defines drugs as having no medical value.  Like heroin, pot is also in Schedule I -- the most restrictive category -- and its placement has made studying marijuana and is potential medical benefits nearly impossible. As the return of Spice suggests, passing HR 1254 and banning a flurry of substances will only inspire chemists to create other chemicals, some of which may be more dangerous than those that came before them. At the same time,  HR 1254 will block the research necessary for the prosecutions lawmakers are after.

 To prevent harm, letting the drugs remain legal and working to understand their effects could be the most effective policy to reduce injury and bad reactions. But rather than consider the taboo, policy makers may continue to pass reactionary laws that do not even serve their prohibitionist agendas. 

Richard Trodden, Arlington County’s top prosecutor and a member of Virginia’s crime commission, told the Post. “I don’t know whether we are going to be able stay one step ahead of these chemists." Still, having shown strong bipartisan support, and with similar bills having passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by voice vote, HR 1254 is likely to pass. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at December 29, 2011, 10:58am

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