Justice outlaws synthetic marijuana

The Obama administration is outlawing forms of synthetic pot even as some states are moving to legalize the real thing.

In a notice to appear in Friday’s Federal Register, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is announcing plans to designate three synthetic cannabinoids as Schedule 1 drugs. The substances — known in chemical terms as UR-144, XLR11 and AKB48 — join other synthetic marijuana mixtures that are already banned.

Recreational use of the drugs, known on the street by names like “Spice” and “K2,” has exploded since they first became available in the United States about five years ago.

{mosads}The chemicals, mixed via a variety of recipes, are spiked on plant material and smoked like regular marijuana. The decision to list them as Schedule 1 drugs — creating criminal penalties for anyone caught dealing or possessing them — reflects a finding that they are an imminent public safety hazard.

“Smoking mixtures of these substances for the purpose of achieving intoxication has been identified as a reason for numerous emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers,” the Justice Department determined. “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.”

In many cases, synthetic marijuana is stronger than the naturally grown variety, though potency can vary widely, even within a single package, according to the DOJ. The agency documented thousands of emergency calls and hospitalizations related to the drug in recent years.

The action, slated to take effect in 30 days, comes as some states are moving forward with plans to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and for recreational use in states like Washington state and Colorado.

The Justice Department is currently reviewing a regulatory plan submitted by Colorado that seeks changes in certain banking and tax rules to allow for pot sales within the state.

The Obama administration has remained silent on the state actions, though U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder would “soon” announce the federal government’s legal position.

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