At the end of July, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill co-sponsored by Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) aimed at banning  the chemicals used to make the dangerous drug known as K2 or Spice . Unlike candy-flavored meth, which Grassley and Feinstein also have sought to ban, K2 and Spice definitely exist: They are brands of incense that consist of dried herbs sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids intended to produce a marijuana-like high.

According to Grassley, these products are deadly. In a press release, he explained that his bill, the David Mitchell Rozga Act, is “named for the 18-year-old from Indianola who took his own life in June 2010, soon after using K2 purchased from his local shopping mall.” Grassley added that “a number of people across the country have acted violently while under the influence of the drug, dying or injuring themselves and others.” 

Grassley's bill is much broader than the Drug Enforcement Administration's emergency ban on four specific chemicals used in fake pot, which took effect in March, spurring manufacturers to switch active ingredients. The bill names 15 compounds and also covers any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of cannabimimetic agents, a unless that chemical is specifically exempted or listed elsewhere in the Controlled Substances Act.

The Drug Policy Alliance's Grant Smith says such hasty action is unjustified, calling instead for an approach that restricts how these drugs are marketed, provides comprehensive drug education, and has strict age controls. He notes that a ban would forestall research on the chemicals in these products, which are  poorly understood by scientists, especially when compared to actual marijuana. “The only reason that people use synthetic marijuana,” he adds, “is because the real thing is illegal.”

The day before Grassley's legislation advanced, the House Subcommittee on Health approved a similar bill that, in addition to synthetic cannabinoids, bans 15 stimulants used in imitation speed, a.k.a. “bath salts.” (In September the DEA announced a ban on three of those chemicals.) Testifying before the subcommittee in July, the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Charles Dent (R-Pa.), warned that these drugs can in fact be even more harmful than the substances they simulate.