Recently, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill outlawing “all forms of synthetic marijuana.”
Senate Bill 370 – Chase’s Law, in memory of Chase Burnett, a 16-year-old from Fayette County who drowned in a hot tub after smoking the drug commonly referred to as “spice” – is aimed at successfully curbing a drug that has seen a rampant increase in usage, especially among young people.
But state lawmakers have attempted such legislation before – with little success.
The first generation of synthetic marijuana, or “herbal incense” as it’s marketed in head shops and gas stations, was banned by the state last year. That law targeted specific cannabinoid compounds present in popular brands like “K2” or “Spice.”
Those compounds, JWH-018 or HU-210 for example, bind to the same receptors in the body as delta-9-tetrahydracannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana. The compounds are added to a variety of dried plant substances, creating synthetic marijuana.
But the “incense” industry began to change those compounds slightly, sidestepping the law to keep their products on store shelves.
The second generation of the product is what Chase’s Law looks to stop, while preventing a third generation by generalizing the language in an attempt to identify the main compound and outlawing it and any derivative.
“Last year we tried to identity all the compounds we could possibly think of and, I think, we did a pretty good job,” said state Sen. Buddy Carter, who sponsored the bill. “But all the bad guys did was come up with some variation of it to get by. But this year we decided to try this other way – to identify just the base compound.”
He believes the new language will aid in the permanent removal and enforcement of the drug.
“This gives law enforcement much more latitude to enforce the law and get these products off our convenience store shelves,” he said.
But the question people familiar with the drug are asking is if the new law will effectively put a stop to the sale of synthetic marijuana.
“As soon as they make it illegal, (manufacturers will) make a new one and call it a different name and put a different picture on the package and that’s how they keep doing it,” said Jarrod Naylor, a resident at The 3D Life, a local residential program for troubled young men. “Then that one is made illegal and they do it again. It’s all the same stuff though.”
Naylor and housemate Ethan Vance are all too familiar with “spice” and its dangers.
“For long-term use, it’s just as bad as any other drug: meth, cocaine, anything like that,” said Vance, who used to be a frequent spice smoker and former meth addict. “I thought since it’s legal, it must not be that bad. But when I got off of it, I realized it was just as bad and I had all the same symptoms (as meth).”
The two are not alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in nine high school seniors in 2011 reported using the drug.
Since the drug is fairly new to the narcotics landscape, not much is known about its long-term effects. Short-term side effects include seizures, vomiting, irritability and an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, among others.
According to the Facebook page of Smoke and More in Gainesville, Ga., the wait for a new synthetic marijuana might not be that long: “We are still talking to manufacturers and attorney’s about new Herbal Incense requirements. The fact is ... it’s already in production; but, everybody is being extremely cautious and dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s. Since we have always been above board and only carried legal product we are one of those that are being very thorough on what we are going to allow in our stores for our customers.
New product will be coming soon which is within the law to keep your homes smelling great!”
That quick turnaround in which a new strain could hit the streets doesn’t surprise anyone familiar with it. After the first generation of it was banned, the next was on shelves immediately.
“It wasn’t even a day later when they had the new stuff,” Vance said. “It seemed like they had it in the store waiting.”
If, or when, a third generation emerges doesn’t really matter, said Greg Brooks, director of 3D Life. It will not stop the problem.
“This is probably not a real popular statement, but the drug is not necessarily the problem,” he said. “It’s the reasons and the purpose behind the drugs that’s the issue. It’s the lack of parenting, the lack of involvement from the parents. Each of these guys that come through our program can tell you the same thing. ... Taking the drug away or outlawing the drug doesn’t fix anything. It’s just a Band-Aid over one certain drug and (users will) find something else to go do.”