Senator Hernandez’ Proposed Ban on Synthetic Marijuana Moves Forward

April 12, 2011

Legislation authored by Senator Dr. Ed Hernandez, O.D. (D – West Covina) which would criminalize the possession of several synthetic marijuana compounds moved successfully out of a key Senate committee today.  

Hernandez’ bill, SB420, would make the possession for use and/or sale of synthetic cannabinoids, also referred to as “Spice” or “K2,” punishable by imprisonment or a fine or both.

“This is a simple matter of protecting public health and safety” said Hernandez, “these products are being sold over the counter and targeted to young people as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana, but the reality is these chemicals are untested for human consumption and considered so dangerous that the federal government already has them listed as controlled substances.”

In the last two years there has been a significant increase in the availability of these smokeable herbal products consisting of plant material coated with chemicals which allegedly provide a high similar to that of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.  The packaging for synthetic marijuana is often conspicuous and professionally done, and has been sold under brand names like “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” by a wide variety of retailers including tobacco shops, gas stations, convenience stores, and online sellers.

On March 24, 2010, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported receiving 112 calls from 15 states related to synthetic marijuana.  Just nine months later, the number of calls increased to over 2,700 from 49 states and the District of Columbia.  Emergency room physicians report that individuals using these types of products experience serious side effects including convulsions, anxiety attacks, dangerously elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure, vomiting, and disorientation.  As a result, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency acted on March 1st of this year to place five of these synthetic cannabinoids on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA).

“There has been ample evidence of the prevalence and potential danger these drugs represent to our communities” added Hernandez, “I authored SB420 to make it clear that these substances are neither safe nor legal, and to bring California law in line with actions already being taken at the federal level.”

Hernandez’ bill would impose fines and/ or up to six months in possible county jail time for possession of any of the five synthetic cannabinoid compounds that the DEA added to the CSA list, with the severity of the fines and jail time depending on the amount an individual was caught with.  Under SB420, a person convicted of possession with intent to sell would pay a stiffer fine as well as serve up to six months in a county prison.

“The penalties for ‘fake marijuana’ need to be the same as those for any other illegal drug so that people understand there is no difference when it comes to the health risks these substances pose,” Hernandez said.

SB420 received unanimous support from the Senate Committee on Public Safety.  It next moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for their consideration.