Synthetic Marijuana: Taking the Next Steps

by | Aug 29, 2014

By Senator Michael O. Moore

Mass. Senator Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury

Mass. Senator Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury

The rise of synthetic marijuana has posed a serious threat to public safety and public health for all 351 municipalities in the Commonwealth. Synthetic marijuana, commonly known as spice, is a designer drug that mimics the effects of cannabis. These products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive effects. Labels on synthetic marijuana products often claim that they contain “natural” psychoactive material taken from a variety of plants. Although these products do contain dried plant material, chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic.

Marketed as herbal incense or potpourri, synthetic marijuana is often viewed by users as a safe alternative to marijuana. However, these products are anything but safe. Synthetic marijuana can be 100 times more powerful than marijuana. In a 2011 University of Michigan survey, one in every nine high school seniors admitted to using synthetic marijuana, making it the second most frequently used illicit drug. In 2010, these products were linked to 11,000 emergency-room visits, with one-third of those visits involving individuals between the ages of 12 and 17. Despite increased information on the harmful effects of these substances, the use of synthetic marijuana has not decreased. Earlier this month, our neighbors to the north, New Hampshire declared a public health emergency after at least 41 people experienced serious medical reactions, including 20 needing to be taken to the hospital by ambulance, following the use of synthetic marijuana.

Federal, state and local officials have been proactive in fighting back against the dangers of synthetic marijuana. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2011 classified many of the active ingredients in these products as controlled substances. This reclassification by the DEA led Congress to pass, and Presidents Barack Obama to sign into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, banning synthetic drugs. During the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, the Massachusetts Legislature adopted an amendment I filed banning synthetic marijuana in the Commonwealth. The amendment adds synthetic cannabinoids to the list of Class C substances and also establishes a definition of analogue to ban substantially similar drugs. Many municipalities, such as the City of Worcester, have also followed suit banning these products. Furthermore, Worcester County District Joseph D. Early, Jr. has sent letters supporting these measures. On August 1, District Attorney Early sent a letter to all 60 police chiefs in Worcester County, informing them of the passage of my amendment and urging police departments to notify any businesses that may be selling these substances that this is now a criminal violation of state law and to enforce the law.

With these important tools in places, we must now ensure these measures are followed. I urge law enforcement, municipalities, elected officials, residents and business to continue to enforce and to ensure compliance of these important public health laws. Together, we can keep our communities safe.

If you suspect that synthetic marijuana products are being sold, please report it to your local police department. You may also report your suspicions to the DEA Diversion Control Office at (617) 557-2191. Furthermore, if you or someone you know needs help, call the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline at 800-327-5050, or visit their website at