Washington Permanently Bans Bath Salts and Synthetic Marijuana--and Some Chemicals That Haven't Been Invented Yet

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Bath salts and synthetic marijuana -- two popular designer drugs, formerly available at a head shop near you -- are already illegal under both federal and Washington state law. The state's ban, however, was a "temporary emergency" measure enacted in April. But today, the Board of Pharmacy moved to not only permanently outlaw the substances and their active ingredients, but also a broad swath of related chemicals that, in some instances, haven't even been invented yet.

Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Graham says it is the first time Washington has "taken action to ban broader, general classifications of chemicals."

"It's designed to keep a little bit ahead of the chemistry," Graham says. "There are two kind of fundamental chemical make-ups for the Spice [synthetic marijuana] or the bath salts. Basically, what this rule does is it says that any use of these two formulas or tweaking of the chemicals there within that classification will be covered under the law. It covers the existing ones and modifications to those basic chemical structures."

Over the past two years, synthetic marijuana products -- marketed as Spice, K2, Blaze, Red Dawn, Genie, Stinger, and dozens of other ridiculous brand names -- came under intense scrutiny from law-enforcement and public officials across the country when they were tied to hundreds of hospital visits and high-profile incidents. Locally, the faux-reefer madness reached a tipping point when a driver plowed through a pedestrian walkway at Pike Place Market while under the influence of the stuff.

Bath salts have become even more notorious, with several heinous freak-outs grabbing headlines both here and elsewhere. Perhaps worst among them was the case of the Fort Lewis soldier and his wife who killed themselves and, allegedly, their 5-year-old son after snorting bath salts this past April. The innocuously-named bath salts reportedly provide an upper high that is akin to cocaine or meth.

The DEA and lawmakers in 30 states have enacted measures cracking down on the new drugs but have been repeatedly thwarted by enterprising chemists. When officials list the specific active ingredients in the drugs, the manufactures make a few minor modifications to their products to skirt the laws.

Hoping to avoid a similar scenario, Washington officials developed their far-reaching new rules, which will go into effect no later than November 3. The change makes several specific chemicals Schedule I controlled substances (click here for the full list, and here for the text of the new rule), but also targets "synthetic substances, derivatives, and their isomers with similar chemical structure and pharmacological activity."

According to Graham, Idaho already has a similar law on the books. Whether the policy will work long-term remains to be seen. But as the War and Drugs as emphatically proven, making a substance illegal certainly doesn't stop people from using it to get high.

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