Yesterday the Drug Enforcement Administration said it plans to impose an emergency ban on the active ingredients in the marijuana substitutes known as K2 or spice. The products consist of dried herbs, ostensibly sold as incense, that have been sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol. Starting one month from now, those chemicals, originally developed for research purposes, will be treated as Schedule I drugs, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act. "Makers of these harmful products mislead their customers into thinking that 'fake pot' is a harmless alternative to illegal drugs, but that is not the case," said acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. "Today’s action will call further attention to the risks of ingesting unknown compounds and will hopefully take away any incentive to try these products." Because that's what happens when you ban drugs: People stop using them.

The emergency ban will last a year, during which the DEA will "further study whether these chemicals and products should be permanently controlled." There's not a lot of suspense about the outcome of that process. But as the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman notes, relegating these substances to the black market, where information and quality will be even less reliable, hardly means they will be "controlled." "The DEA says that prohibiting synthetic marijuana will 'control' it," Newman says. "Yet we know from history that prohibition is the complete opposite of drug control."

The DEA's hasty action in response to complaints about ersatz pot, reminiscent of its swift scheduling of MDMA, contrasts with the wait-and-see approach it has so far taken to Salvia divinorum. Previous Reason coverage of the crackdown on K2/spice, which is already illegal in some cities and states, here. The Drug War Chronicle has more here. The Chronicle's account suggests that the fake stuff may be more hazardous than the real stuff, which highlights the hollowness of the pretense that prohibition protects people from drug-related harm. If that were really the DEA's aim, it would be rescheduling marijuana instead of driving people to riskier alternatives.

Headline explanation here.