Fake pot, it's the new thing, sort of like real pot in the '60s, cocaine in the '80s, and heroin in the '90s -- not that any of those ever actually receded from the landscape of mind alteration. Recently, you may have read one of the ubiquitous "officials want to make this stuff illegal" news stories, but the synthetic marijuana conversation in Florida has been a little glazed-over and hazy. Unclear and puzzled about the fake stuff (AKA K2, Spice, etc.) we called Bruce Grant, director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control, for a "Fake Pot for Dummies" tutorial. Turns out, fake pot is way more whack than even crack and far more chemically and legally complex than plain old-fashioned weed.
Introducing the Eight Things You Didn't Know About Synthetic Marijuana:
1. It does, in fact, get you high. Our sister paper in Kansas City conducted a highly scientific product test. Conclusion: You will get high -- or nauseous.
2. It's not a "controlled substance"... yet, according to the federal government and 47 states. It's a chemical compound that produces a high similar to marijuana; it's not a variation of pot. To put the fake-pot conversation in context, Grant explained a basic but important concept. Drugs are scheduled by both the federal and state governments, according to "potential for addiction and abuse." Schedule 1 drugs, which are illegal, include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and others. Which brings us to the next point...
3. It's already illegal in some states. States can schedule drugs, deeming them a controlled substance, before the federal government -- as is the case in the 13 states that have already scheduled synthetic weed. Florida state Sen. Steven Wise is taking measures to make fake pot, which is currently available at your local convenience store, a Schedule 1 drug in Florida. "If it has the same effect or worse effect than marijuana," Wise told the St. Petersburg Times, "I don't think [children] need to have access to it."
4. It could be more dangerous than regular pot. There are five common variations of synthetic cannabis. "[These chemicals] do provide similar effects to marijuana but much more potent and much more dangerous," Grant says. Many people have ended up ill in the emergency room, and the production of fake pot is not regulated, so it could be weak or it could be unexpectedly strong -- a little like regular pot. Side effects are not typically life-threatening, but the synthetic stuff could lead to a bodily experience unpleasant enough to warrant a hospital visit.
5. It's an especially big trend in South Florida. Grant makes this supposition based on anecdotal evidence such as the substance's availability in stores. "Ninety-nine percent of the time you say something's worse in South Florida, you're right," he adds. Here, we're plagued with a high population density and plenty of earlier adopters of, well, lots of things.
6. The market for fake pot is ripe with people who would get in BIG trouble for real pot. Think: police, law enforcement and correction officers, people on probation, teens. Basically, everyone, since pot laws are so severe in Florida.
7. Language for a law banning fake pot is a tricky issue. People are constantly developing fake-pot chemicals. So when one is deemed illegal, another is creeping onto the scene. "We are working through the problem on the language because, certainly, if you don't know what's in it, how can you say that's an illegal thing?" Grant says. Hence, the problem faced by Missouri.
8. If passed, a fake-pot ban will take effect next summer at the earliest. Next month is the earliest a ban can be proposed; then it must undergo several rounds of approval before the governor can sign it into a law. If it gets that far, the ban will not go into effect until at least next July.
The takeaway: The argument to keep fake pot legal is missing much of the reasoning behind the legalization of real pot -- it's not natural, and it has no proven medical purpose. Smoking fake pot is like using Sweet'N Low -- it's clear why people do it, but it may be doing more harm than good.
Fake weed is, however, good for the local economy -- at least for people who own convenience stores or for online distributors. That said -- and not to get ahead of ourselves -- no one would buy this stuff if pot were legal. When it comes down to it, this is a difficult substance to defend, assuming it can even be defined.