FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. – They are dubbed “fake pot” or sold as “bath salts,” but their high is increasingly worrisome to law enforcement officials.
New legislation may soon give narcotics agents stronger ammunition against those who think they are playing the system, but gray areas still exist for drug users who want to circumvent the law.
In May 2010, the state adopted a law banning synthetic marijuana.
Labeled as “herbal incense,” the plant materials were coated with chemicals that claimed to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, said a Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Investigator Moore, who asked that we only use the name Moore for his protection.
“We had issues with synthetic drugs, because people were using in drug court programs or on probation,” Moore said. “If they are given probation in lieu of prison, or if they are given drug court or something like that, they always test for narcotics.”
People were getting high on the substance and passing drug screens. But now, those ingredients are banned and have been removed from the product, sold as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze” and “Red X Dawn.”
But the smoking of herbal incense is still popular, and it continues to be sold at area convenience stores, smoke shops and on the Internet.
“The companies that were making the synthetic marijuana have adapted,” Moore said. “They took out the active ingredients that were considered a violation of the law, and are still making the same product.”
Stores that sell the products have been warned and provided with a copy of the law, Moore said. Undercover narcotics agents often visit the stores to buy and test the products for the illegal substances.
“We still run into the synthetic marijuana on a fairly regular basis,” Moore said. “But as long as the product doesn’t contain the Schedule I narcotics, there’s nothing we can do about this.”
A challenge for law enforcement is that there’s no way to test the drug out in the field.
“If they bought the product legally at a store, we have to question whether we can legally seize that product,” Moore said.
‘Bath salts’ hit the streets
Another product on law enforcement’s radar is being marketed as “bath salts,” but they are not the bath salts sold in the soap aisle. These contain psychoactive substances that cause hallucination. The drugs are marketed and available under brand names like “Cloud Nine,” “Ivory Wave” and “Blue Silk.”
The bath salts are sold in head shops and other places that sell drug paraphernalia. They are also labeled in ways that imply their true use and have not been approved for medical use in the U.S.
“It looks like a salt, or sugar,” Moore said. “It’s ingested through various liquids and can be snorted.”
In mid-February, a northwest Georgia lawmaker proposed a ban on synthetic drugs in bath salts. The House Judiciary Non-civil Committee is reviewing the bill.
House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, would ban five stimulants from the chemical family of cathinones, a group of drugs related to amphetamine that can create a high similar to that of methamphetamines.
“There are several synthetics out there that are finding the gray area,” Moore said.
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Commander, Major W. D. Jagoe, said the motive for these products is money, but the harm to the general public is not to be overlooked.
“Impairs your thinking, your motors skills,” Jagoe said. “You’re under the influence of a narcotic. When you are under that euphoric high, your motor skills and your reasoning is out the window.”