For the most part, no. When synthetic cannabinoid products began to appear in convenience stores in the mid-2000s they contained substances that were not specifically banned by state or federal drug laws. But by the end of the decade, a few states passed laws to ban their sale.
In 2011 the DEA used emergency protocols to temporarily schedule some of the substances found in synthetic cannabinoid products. The next year, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, permanently placing several different classes of psychoactive substances, including many synthetic cannabinoids, into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) – the most restrictive classification.
Each state is currently using various administration actions, prosecution strategies, and regulations for product labeling and branding to either quickly ban individual substances or criminalize sales. Most states have also enacted criminal and civil penalties (and many others have pending legislation) for the sale of products that attempt to avoid being advertised as “synthetic drugs” by claiming they are “not for human consumption.”
Recently, states like New York, Virginia and others have pushed for new laws that broaden the chemical definitions meant to be outlined in Schedule I, as well as call for harsher penalties for sale of synthetic cannabinoid products.
Alternatives to Prohibition
Drug prohibition laws essentially “mark the battle lines,” as manufacturers of synthetic cannabinoids can make small changes to the chemical formulas to skirt these laws, producing newer synthetic cannabinoids that have not yet been scheduled.
Instead of further criminalization, alternative approaches are needed to reduce accidental deaths related to drug use, improve public health outcomes, care for vulnerable populations, and protect young people. These alternatives include:
- Providing outreach and resources for vulnerable populations
- Providing comprehensive drug education about emerging substances
- Revisiting plans to tax and regulate marijuana as a means of reducing demand for synthetic cannabinoids and holding retailers accountable for products they sell