Legislation aimed at banning fake pot (a.k.a. spice or K2) and imitation speed (a.k.a. "bath salts") is expected to become law soon now that it has been incorporated into the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which the Senate approved almost unanimously on May 24. Last week the House approved a similar bill by a similar margin. The House version did not include the drug bans, but the difference should be easily reconciled in conference, since the House overwhelmingly approved the same provisions in a separate bill last December.
The Drug War Chronicle reports that adding the synthetic drug bans to the FDA bill overcame a hold placed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who objected to expanding the federal drug war and to the severity of the penalties. Paul did manage to insert an amendment that says the 20-year mandatory minimum for people who manufacture or supply a drug that causes "death or serious bodily injury" does not apply to the newly prohibited substances. But violators still face up to 20 years in prison for manufacture or sale and up to 30 years for a second offense.
The bill covers "cannabimimetic agents," defined as substances that act on the CB1 receptor and fall into one of five structural classes, along with 11 stimulants used in "bath salts." Some of these compounds are also covered by state laws and by the "emergency" bans the Drug Enforcement Administration imposed in 2010 and 2011. There are many possible substitutes, some of which may soon show up at a head shop or gas station near you, assuming they are not there already.
Update: Roll Call reports that Rudy Eugene's cannibalistic attack on Ronald Poppo in Miami on May 26, widely attributed to some kind of "bath salts" even though the results of toxicological tests on Eugene's body may not be available for weeks, has boosted the odds that the final FDA bill will include the ban on synthetic drugs. "When they learn about this face-chewing situation in Florida," says Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), sponsor of the ban passed by the House last year, "hopefully that will change a few minds." It does not sound like that many minds need to be changed. "There is some opposition to the ban," Roll Call says. "Some civil libertarians believe drugs should not be banned or that such issues should be left up to the states." Given the attention that Congress usually pays to such concerns, this ban seems like a done deal.
"These drugs have odd psychotic effects on people," Dent says. "Out of this terrible tragedy in Florida, we hope this will bring about greater awareness and accelerate the need to enact meaningful legislation that will protect people from this poison." Which poison? It doesn't matter. Roll Call claims Eugene was under the influence of "a designer street hallucinogen," a description that does not seem to fit the substances covered by the bill. But if it turns out Eugene took a drug that's not on the list, Congress can always ban it later. If, as some have speculated, Eugene was sufferng from "cocaine psychosis," Congress can ban cocaine. Again. And if no traces of drugs are found in his body, I look forward to the federal War on Sobriety.