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Radical Rant: 33 Synthetic Pot “Zombies” Rushed to Hospital in NYC, Real Pot Still Illegal

Russ Belville

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synthetic marijuana, K2, spice

You’ve no doubt read the headlines about the “new drug epidemic” that has sent 33 people in Brooklyn to the hospital…

CBS Evening News: Synthetic marijuana overdose turns dozens into “zombies” in NYC
NBC New York: K2 ‘Zombies’ at Brooklyn Intersection Where Use Is ‘Epidemic’
AM New York: Brooklyn’s zombie apocalypse with K2

This “synthetic marijuana,” often branded as “K2” or “Spice,” is some random herb sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids. These synthetics were designed for laboratory use because the real thing—cannabis—is a Schedule I substance that makes researching it nearly impossible.

These synthetic cannabinoids of varying power and effect are haphazardly sprayed on some herb-like plant material. You could have an enjoyable experience with one batch of K2 and smoke exactly the same amount from another batch and end up being called a “zombie” in a viral video and taken to the hospital.

So there are these untested synthetic cannabinoid products that were manufactured specifically because cannabis is illegal. People are using them recreationally and having disastrous results. I wonder what we should do about that?

New York Business Journal: After K2 overdoses turn 33 into zombies, N.Y.C. cracks down on retailers
New York Magazine: After Mass K2 Overdose, Police Raids and Protests in Bed-Stuy
New York Times: Police Raid 5 Brooklyn Bodegas After Suspected K2 Overdoses

OW! (Sorry. I just literally slapped my own head.) Really, after all these years failing to prohibit natural cannabis, the response to the K2 overdoses is to employ prohibition and eradication tactics?

HIGH TIMES readers at this point are ready for the punch line: Just legalize natural cannabis already—it won’t lead to streets full of zombies!

Sorry to throw a Shyamalanian twist ending at you, but legalizing marijuana alone won’t end the use of and overdoses from synthetic pot.

It’s not as if marijuana isn’t available in Brooklyn; it’s just riskier to possess. Possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana is decriminalized in New York, but it’s still cause for police interactions that too often lead to jail.  Possession of up to eight packets of K2, however, is legal.

So, yes, if we legalized marijuana, we’d remove at least that primary risk incentive to use K2. But when you read the articles, you find there are other factors that incentivize K2 use.

The secondary incentive would be drug testing. K2 use is very popular around military bases and with sports teams. It’s also popular with people on probation and parole. That’s because most of the first-panel tests that screen for illegal drugs do not catch the metabolites from K2 like they catch metabolites from THC.

So not only do we have to legalize marijuana, we have to end drug testing for it as well. I think that’s achievable for many sectors of the workforce, but there will always be pushback for those safety-sensitive jobs.

The tertiary incentive would be cost. K2 use is popular with destitute populations because a packet can be as cheap as a buck from a nearby bodega. Illegal marijuana in New York City still costs $50 an eighth from a guy who might be a cop. But even in the legal Pacific Northwest, with taxes, marijuana can still cost $20 an eighth.

So not only do we have to legalize marijuana and end drug testing, we’ve got to get the price of marijuana down to a buck a gram. I think that’s possible, too, but not in an over-taxed semi-legalized nation of pot smokers, not in the near future.

No, there will really only be one way to make K2 safer, and it is the same way we make any drug safer—we legalize it, regulate it and test it.

Yes, I’m saying legalize K2. Just require it to meet the standards necessary for safe human consumption. It’s not that these synthetic cannabinoids can’t be used safely, it’s that they suffer from the same problem all illegal drugs do—inconsistency, adulteration, criminal control and lack of responsible use modeling.

 It’s not that 33 people suddenly decided to take up K2 smoking and overdosed—these were regular consumers who hadn’t gotten a bad batch before. This is the same problem we find with heroin overdoses; when consumers have access to pharma-quality heroin in safe injection sites, there are almost no overdoses.

Legalize and standardize K2. We could do that faster than we could expect to end marijuana drug testing and get weed legalized nationally so the price can drop below a buck a gram.

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