Florida governments' disturbing synthetic marijuana high
PIERRE TRISTAM, Florida VoicesOne wonders sometimes what our elected officials are smoking. Especially in light of the hysteria over synthetic marijuana and bath salts.
Published: October 3, 2012
Published: October 3, 2012
Local governments all over Florida are racing each other to ban those little packets of "incense" sold in convenience stores for $20 or $30 a pop under the name of Spice, Galaxy Gold, Mr. Nice Guy or K-2, among others.
The banning is taking place often in legally suspect ways, as in Palm Coast—where the city council this week will prohibit stores from selling the packets or face a $300-a-day fine, even though the products are legal. Broward County did the same. The Volusia County Council of Governments is urging a similar course. Palm Beach County may be next.
The bans are proliferating with little to no hard evidence that the stuff is anywhere near as dangerous as doomsayers make it sound. Compared to a day's worth of alcohol poisoning, the long-term effects of smoking or the prevalence of last year's hysteria of choice—the abuse of prescription pain-killers—synthetic pot is an outlier. Yet the press is inhaling the hysterics and spitting out unfounded claims because they're made by "officials."
A couple of examples: To make his case before the Palm Coast City Council, a sheriff's deputy flashed a claim during his PowerPoint that synthetic pot is "800 times stronger than marijuana," and that side effects include "vomiting, agitation, fast heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, seizures, hallucinations, [and] psychotic episodes." No sources were provided, and no qualifiers to the statements, which council members repeated and local newspapers reprinted.
Actually, those side effects are far milder and their list far shorter than those associated with any common anti-depressant, which are prescribed to children, train conductors and elected officials.
As for the origin of the "800 times stronger" claim, I traced it down to a 1992 Journal of Medicinal Chemistry article that referred to one manufactured chemical compound, HU-210, which had been tested "in various animal species" and found to have "effects 100 to 800 times more potent than THC," the main compound in marijuana.
The article did not cite effects on humans because it's never been tested that way. Nor did it specify how much HU-210 must be administered to have such disproportionate effects. No matter: the qualifiers have vanished and the "800 times stronger" claim is now an Internet addiction to alarmist items on synthetic pot. HU-210, by the way, is illegal by federal and Florida law.
In Palm Coast, the council did what politicians do when they want to scare people into submitting to new rules: it played the kids card, claiming the ban would protect adolescents. But children are not the problem. Dawn Sollee, an assistant director at the Florida Poison Information Center, says the drugs appeal mostly to people in their mid-20s. Never let facts get in the way of a politically profitable fear.
Local governments are getting in the business of bans because it makes them look like they're doing something at a time when budget cuts and hung over economies have put them on the defensive. But they're mixing hysterics with bad policy—a brew more toxic than whatever kind of pot they're pretending to control.
If synthetic pot is illegal, then it's a law enforcement matter. It's not the place of city or county code enforcement officers to police what products are on storeowners' shelves. President Obama did sign the Synthetic Drug Prevention Act in July, banning numerous chemicals used to make synthetic pot. Gov. Rick Scott did the same a few months earlier. So federal, state and local police have the authority to police the substances, and have done so in several Florida jurisdictions, including Palm Beach and Putnam counties.
Still, police raids must prove guilt. It costs a lab $500 and many weeks to determine whether the compounds in seized products is illegal. But local government corner-cutters don't want to bother with the legalities. They'd rather flex their muscle and intimidate merchants, calculating that shop-owners won't challenge the tactic. As Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts put it blatantly: "I would just love for one of our local businesses to step up and say I demand the right to sell this stuff to your kids."
It's a catchy dare. It's also a bully's taunt. Local governments are trampling due process to enforce a legal shortcut. In the derelict war on drugs, it's governments' latest high. And it's more disturbing than any pothead's.
Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.