The use of synthetic marijuana appears to be rising nearly as quickly as the drugs themselves are changing. And that makes it hard for Congress to keep up.
With some drug packets labeled “not intended for human consumption” in an apparent effort to skirt the law, regulation and prosecution remain tricky as chemists alter the designer drug’s molecular structure faster than the federal government can react. After a substantial shift downward from 2011, the number of calls to poison centers for exposure to synthetic marijuana has risen dramatically this year. With 5,932 calls as of Sunday, this year is on pace to break 2011’s record of 6,968, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports. (Though they’ve gotten significant media attention, the usage of bath salts has not risen.)
“These drugs are coming out so fast sometimes that it's impossible almost to keep up with what's out, what do they look like chemically, structurally, what are they related to, what family do they belong to, all of that scientific stuff,” said Heather Gray, the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws legislative director.
Attempts at curtailing synthetic drugs take some creativity: Police can suspend a shopkeeper’s liquor and tobacco licenses if they’re caught selling designer drugs in DeKalb, Illinois. Stores that sell may have their building declared a public nuisance in Tennessee. And business licenses could be forfeited in Illinois, according to a National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws report titled “Enforcement of Synthetic Substances Laws.”