Written by Kevin Akpan, SSDP Stories Intern, and Greg Gaffney-Bills, Policy and Legislative Affairs Director at George Washington University
Synthetic marijuana, a byproduct of the United States’ war on drugs, is killing Americans. In August 2012, officials in Davie, FL banned the sale of some forms of synthetic marijuana after 30-year-old Tod Parkinson was found dead on his kitchen floor, near packages labeled “Cloud Nine” and “Mr. Nice Guy.” New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan went so far as to declare a public health emergency after the drug hospitalized dozens of people in a matter of weeks.
Despite the alarming health risks, synthetic marijuana is particularly popular due to its legality, and manufacturers’ marketing strategies. Federal regulators have been attempting to ban synthetic marijuana since 2012, and most states formally ban some types of the drug. However, these laws are grossly ineffective. It is incredibly easy for manufacturers to create loopholes by slightly modifying the chemical structure of the product, and so it remains widely available.
Disguised by colorful packaging, harmless names, including “Scooby Snax, “Bubblegum Flavor,” and “K-2,” and false health claims, synthetic marijuana is flying off the shelves at disturbing rate. According to Dr. Andrew Monte, a contributor in the New England Journal of Medicine said, “you can buy designer drugs at convenience stores and on the Internet. People may not realize how dangerous these drugs can be – up to 1,000 times stronger binding to cannabis receptors when compared to traditional marijuana.”
Here in the District, we have an opportunity to greatly reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths resulting from synthetic marijuana: approving Initiative 71. Initiative 71 would legalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, thereby eliminating the demand for devastating synthetic alternatives. Dr. Christopher Rosenbaum, director of toxicology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Boston recently joined the growing list of medical professionals decrying synthetic marijuana: “people are smoking substances without knowing what’s in them. I would argue these products are more dangerous than the [marijuana] they are intended to replace.”
Voting yes on Initiative 71 means more than legalizing a substance that is substantially less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes. It is a step towards ending the US war on drugs, saving lives, and making Washington, DC a safer place for everyone.