Senate bill cracks down on synthetic pot

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is leading a Senate push against unregulated synthetic drugs that critics say are often more dangerous than the real thing.

Feinstein on Thursday introduced legislation that would track and criminalize operations that cook up artificial substitutes for marijuana and other illicit drugs.

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The Justice Department has prohibited various recipes marketed under names like K2 and Spice since synthetic drugs started hitting U.S. streets about five years ago. But the agency is unable to keep up with the burgeoning and nimble industry, which is churning out new formulas faster than Justice can ban them.

“Traffickers of dangerous synthetic drugs continue to circumvent federal law by altering the chemical structure of their products and finding new markets for distribution, particularly among young people,” Feinstein said.

She said there are an estimated 200 controlled substance “analogues” on the market today. Beyond marijuana, some of the drugs mimic ecstasy, PCP and LSD, Feinstein added.

The “Protecting Our Youth from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act of 2013” would create a new inter-agency committee of scientists headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The panel would compile and maintain a list of all emerging synthetic drugs.

The bill would make it illegal to import synthetic drugs intended for human use. The substances are almost always shipped in from other countries.

It would also direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and, if necessary, amend federal sentencing guidelines for violations involving synthetic drugs.

While often marketed as a legal alternative to their banned counterparts, synthetic drugs are often far more potent, research has shown. The DOJ has documented thousands of emergency calls and hospitalizations related to the drugs in recent years.

“Some of the adverse health effects reported in response to the abuse of synthetic cannabinoids include vomiting, anxiety, agitation, irritability, seizures, hallucinations, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of consciousness,” the agency said upon banning three versions of artificial pot earlier this year.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have signed on as co-sponsors of the Feinstein bill.

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