The D.C. Department of Health classified synthetic cannabinoids as a Schedule I drug Oct. 15, subjecting possession and sale of the drug to stricter punishments.

The federal government banned synthetic marijuana, colloquially known as K2 or Spice, three years ago. Despite this, companies producing the drugs have found it relatively easy to avoid prosecution by slightly changing the chemical structure of their compound or labeling it as a harmless substance. The drugs are often falsely marketed as potpourri, incense, jewelry cleaner or bath salts and are sold in gas stations and corner stores.

The new regulations established by the DOH make this practice more difficult, preventing chemists from altering the substance and skirting the law. The DOH has also allowed authorities to fine and retract the licenses of establishments selling the synthetic products.

This new Schedule I classification places synthetic marijuana alongside drugs like heroin and cocaine.

“In an effort to curb emerging synthetic drugs and protect children and teens, the District has developed one of the most comprehensive bans on harmful synthetic drugs,” DOH Director Joxel Garcia said in a press release last Wednesday.

The D.C. DOH also launched an anti-synthetic marijuana ad campaign, called K2 Zombie D.C. This campaign, targeted at young people, associates the drug with paranoia, seizures and hallucinations.

Other synthetic designer drugs like Molly, a pure form of ecstasy, and bath salts have both seen an increase in use among young people.

“These substances are gaining increased prevalence among youth and unsuspecting adults,” Garcia said. “We must be diligent and proactive if we are to stop the flow of harmful drugs to the marketplace and finding its way to our children.”

The substance’s ability to go undetected by conventional drug tests has contributed to higher usage of it in institutions with frequent drug testing.

“It is not out of the ordinary to hear reports of law enforcement officers or military personnel who test positive for synthetic marijuana,” Drug Policy Alliance spokesperson Grant Smith said. “You have the demand for synthetic marijuana being driven in part by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Smith agreed that synthetic marijuana is a threatening substance, particularly because of the lack of information about the substances.

“We don’t really know what the risks are,” Smith said. “We have very little understanding of what is in these products, or their effect on the user.”

These synthetic substances have the potential to be 1,000 times stronger than traditional marijuana, with effects more akin to psychotic breaks than a high.

One Georgetown freshman, who requested anonymity, said that while he and his friends often smoke marijuana, they have only encountered synthetic marijuana once. After beginning to smoke the substance, they quickly realized that it was not real and stopped.

“They smoked enough to definitely feel what they would say was a buzz,” this freshman said of his friends. “But it was different than the high you get from smoking marijuana.”

Despite the effects, Smith argued that criminalizing this substance would not fix the problem of usage in the United States.

“First and foremost, this should be treated as a health issue and not a criminal justice issue,” he said. “This is a more reasonable approach with better results than criminalizing it outright … this is a process where you let science decide what is the best way to deal with this substance, rather than having politicians decide.”

In the Nov. 4 general election, D.C. voters will choose whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The measure, expected to pass, will allow a person 21 years or older to legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal consumption.

Smith believes that marijuana legalization would lead to a decline in synthetic marijuana use, as people would turn toward the regulated, safer product.

“The interest in synthetic marijuana could be mitigated by creating a market for marijuana,” he said. “That would diminish interest, and it’s a win for public health and safety.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*