Jun 062012

By Teri Walker —

After a protracted battle, the U.S. Senate has passed a bill that makes synthetic marijuana and the chemical compounds found in bath salts illegal in the United States.

The Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act includes a section addressing the synthetic drugs that have been increasingly in the news because of the strong hallucinogenic response they can trigger. Most recently, national and international media attention rested on the brutal cannibalistic attack on a homeless man in Miami, where authorities suspect the attacker of using bath salts.

The chemicals found in synthetic marijuana and the so-called bath salts can cause effects similar to those experienced with cocaine and methamphetamines, including paranoia, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations. Deaths after overdosing, suicide and violent behavior are on the rise, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), championed the bill that would categorize the chemicals the DEA has identified in synthetic marijuana products as Schedule I narcotics, putting them alongside heroin and LSD. The bill was held up under threat of filibuster but broke through the delay and was passed May 31. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill last December.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials have had trouble keeping ahead of the synthetic drug trade because as one product was outlawed, creative drug chemists would find ways to tweak chemical combinations enough to skirt specific compound bans.

In a previous interview, Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark said, “The problem is, as soon as you outlaw one product, chemists come up with another compound that is just different enough. They find a way to get around the rules.”

According to bill sponsors, the new legislation encompasses existing synthetic marijuana products and additional possible chemical combinations, to keep new products from being developed that fall outside of existing bans.

Schumer’s legislation bans MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) and mephedrone, the active ingredients in bath salts, in addition to banning synthetic marijuana.

Schumer said the bill should advance to President Barack Obama for signature by July 4. When signed into law, it will be illegal to sell bath salts and synthetic marijuana anywhere in the U.S., regardless of local laws. Penalties for first-time offenders could be up to 20 years in prison and repeat offenders would receive up to 30 years in prison.