The Drug War Chronicle reports that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has placed a "hold" on bills aimed at banning fake pot, pseudo-speed, and the synthetc psychedelic 2C-E. In a recent interview with the Bowling Green, Kentucky, Daily News, Paul said the hold, which requires 60 votes to override, was motivated partly by "disproportionate" federal penalties that leave too little sentencing discretion for judges. "The main reason we are opposing this is someone could be kept in prison for 20 years," he said. Another reason, Rand spokeswoman Moira Bagley told The Lexington Herald-Leader, is that the senator believes "enforcement of most drug laws can and should be local and state issues." Bagley "said another of Paul's concerns—which others have echoed—is that the proposed legislation could hinder efforts to do beneficial research on the chemicals." The Herald-Leader says "Paul does not anticipate lifting his hold," which "has been in place for at least three months."

The Drug Enforcement Administration already has imposed "emergency" bans on chemicals used in ersatz marijuana (a.k.a. K2 or spice) and imitation speed (a.k.a. "bath salts"). Two of the bills Paul is blocking—S.B. 605 (the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011), introduced by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and S.B. 409 (the Combating Dangerous Stimulants Act of 2011), introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—broaden these bans. Grassley's bill, for example, applies to "any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of cannabimimetic agents," unless that chemical is specifically exempted or listed elsewhere in the Controlled Substances Act. The third bill—S.B. 839 (the Combating Designer Drugs Act of 2011), introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)—bans 2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylphenethylamine (2C-E) and eight related synthetic psychedelics.

On the Senate floor last week, Klobuchar urged Paul (without naming him) to lift his hold:

There have been reports from states around the country of people acting violently while under the influence of these drugs, leading to deaths or injuries to themselves and others.

While taking these drugs people can experience elevated heart rates and blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures and extreme agitation. They are incredibly dangerous....

This all hit home in my state with the tragic death of a 19 year old man, Trevor Robinson, in Blaine, Minnesota, who overdosed on a synthetic hallucinogen known as 2C-E last year. 

And another young man is thought to have shot himself in Minnesota later in the year while under the influence of synthetic drugs....

I understand that the Senator who is holding these bills is genuine and philosophical in his opposition, and he deserves to be heard on his objections. 

My suggestion is that we come to an agreement so that we can have a period of debate on these bills.  He can take the floor and speak to this issue for as long as he would like, but then let’s have a vote. We can't wait any longer.... 

Before we lose more kids, before these drugs spread any further, let’s pass these bills....

Let's have a debate, let’s hear what the objections are, and then let’s pass these bills.  I really think we can save lives. While there is still time to catch up, let’s do everything we can do to address this problem.

In its entry on 2C-E, Erowid notes a total of three fatal overdose reports: the case Klobuchar mentions, plus two deaths in Oklahoma involving a substance "thought now to have been mislabeled bromo-dragonfly." By comparison, alcohol poisoning causes hundreds of deaths a year in the U.S. and contributes to more than 1,000. So by all means, let's have a debate about the merits of banning every psychoactive substance that happens to catch a pharmaphobic legislator's attention. Let's talk about the unjust, utterly arbitrary distinctions drawn by our drug laws, which send people to prison for years or decades because they manufactured or supplied intoxicants that scare people like Amy Klobuchar. But let's have an actual debate, not a headlong, no-time-to-lose rush to panic-palliating prohibition.

More on K2/spice and bath salts here and here.