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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Georgia's quest to ban synthetic cannabis becomes a long, frustrating game of Whack-A-Mole

The real stuff is illegal but the fake stuff isnt -- at least not yet
  • Joeff Davis
  • The real stuff is illegal but the fake stuff isn't - at least not yet

There's a big game of Whack-A-Mole set to begin in Georgia over synthetic cannabis (aka Spice, K2 or Genie).

It all started in the 1990s when a professor at Clemson University received a $2 million grant from the government to study the interaction between THC and cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Underground chemists took the chemical compound created from that study and sprayed it on a mixture of herbs and plants, which created synthetic cannabis.

In 2010, state lawmakers thought they'd done away with the drug, which had caused the hospitalization of several teens, by classifying the synthetic cannabinoid as Schedule I drugs, the same class as heroin and LSD. But manufacturers tweaked the chemical formula and were able to sneak around the law. Synthetic cannabis was soon back on the shelves of Peach State smoke shops and convenience stores.

In early March, Chase Burnett, a 16-year-old teenager from Fayette County, smoked the legal substance. He was later found dead after drowning in a hot tub. Several weeks later, Gov. Nathan Deal signed "Chase's Law," which made all variations of the chemical compound illegal. State lawmakers had finally passed a law broad enough to prevent the substance from making its way into stores.

Or so they thought.

Manufacturers went back to work and created a new form of the drug by completely changing the molecular structure of the compound. Once again, the synthetic cannabis was legally being sold throughout the state.

On June 8, the governor asked the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy "to adopt an emergency rule to classify [the new form of the substance] under Schedule 1 of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act." Last Monday, the State Board fulfilled the request.

The following day, Cherokee County law enforcement authorities in seized thousands of packages of the faux pot. Included in the bust were H Y Novelties, Smoke 911, and two other unnamed stores.

And that's all law enforcement officers can now do. The state board's ruling gives authorities no power to dole out criminal penalties or make arrests. Police can only seize the drug from local shops and gas stations that sell it until state lawmakers pass a bill outlawing the new substance. (One shop owner, when asked by CL if he would sell the substance again, said, "Yea, maybe in a month.")

So it will likely continue. The drug will pop up. The state will whack it down.

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