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Should Iowa ban synthetic marijuana?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JUNE 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

K2 is a relatively unknown substance whose effects should be extensively researched before becoming widely available on the market.

Relying on infectious mixtures of psychotropic chemicals, synthetic forms of marijuana have grown in popularity recently as legal alternatives to cannabis. Often billed as “incense,” these substances are available in a multitude of varieties carrying different names, perhaps the most infamous of which is K2. And although still widely available, Iowa lawmakers have attempted to ban these substances before, only to be thwarted by producers who managed to skirt around the legal framework.

While little empirical research has been accumulated on K2 or similar substances, many in law enforcement and medicine have reported dangerous symptoms occurring as a result of the substance’s use. Ranging from nausea to hallucinations, it’s K2’s connection to fits of anxiety that is perhaps the most disturbing symptom reported; having allegedly played a part in the suicide of David Rozga, an Iowa teen who last year shot himself as a result of hyper anxiety.

Given the inherent possibility of danger from smoking K2, at the very least, access to K2 should be restricted until the substance can be more thoroughly studied. This was the view of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which earlier this year attempted to impose an emergency ban on the sale of K2 for this very purpose, only to have their ban similarly made useless.

Still, one needn’t look far into the debate to come away with the understanding that K2 should be banned. The substance is extremely similar to cannabis and, as law currently appears, cannabis is still illegal. If we, as a state and nation, decide it’s right to criminalize marijuana, then we should apply the same basic principle of enforcement to marijuana’s synthetic alternatives; especially when we know much less of these substances.

—Matt Heinze

NO

Just like I’m opposed to the criminalization of marijuana, I’m also opposed to the criminalization of K2.

Its criminalization is certainly consistent with the American attitude toward marijuana. There’s a logical argument there: If marijuana is illegal, then K2 should be illegal, as well.

However, I’ve always been more of an idealist: Marijuana is illegal, and K2 was recently banned, but I’d like to see both legalized — with similar parameters as cigarettes, alcohol, and other legal mind-altering substances.

K2 — a brand name that has since become the term for any synthetic marijuana product — contains synthetic cannabinoids that imitate the effects of marijuana when smoked. The synthetic compounds don’t show up on a traditional test for marijuana, although they can be detected by specialized tests.

There’s not a lot of research on any side effects or long-term consequences of synthetic cannabis use, but any immediate toxic symptoms (clinical terminology for unwanted side effects) seem to go away within three to four hours. People who have tried the drug reported a more evanescent high, although one that’s still quite real; a few experimenters reported hallucinations. After one teen killed himself following a smoke, his parents lobbied Iowa lawmakers to criminalize it — but there’s no evidence that K2 directly contributed to his death, and a legal intoxicant ought to be restricted by age, anyhow.

In other words, there’s nothing horrifying about K2. Nothing that should prohibit a consenting adult who wishes to spend some time in an altered state of consciousness from consuming it.

Even better: Synthetic marijuana is guaranteed to come without any of those nasty, murdering cartel associations that accompany real marijuana — that which isn’t grown in California, at least. (Of course, that could be mitigated, too, with the legalization of marijuana.)

There’s no real reason to criminalize K2, unless you’re going for logical consistency; If that’s the case, it’s time to end the drug war already and decriminalize both synthetic and organic marijuana.

Set an age limit of 18, prohibit its use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery, and let people smoke it if they so choose.

Legality should be the default.

—Shay O’Reilly


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