Two recent Georgia news stories highlight the potential legal consequences of synthetic marijuana use and possession.
The Rome News-Tribune reported that a man was arrested recently for driving under the influence of synthetic marijuana. He is also facing felony charges for possession of synthetic marijuana. In another story, Fox5 Atlanta reports that three men were arrested after a high-speed chase early Monday morning. In addition to reckless driving and numerous other charges, two of the men are also facing charges for possession of synthetic marijuana.
So what exactly is synthetic marijuana, and how is it regulated under Georgia law?
What is Synthetic Marijuana?
Synthetic marijuana is usually a combination of herbs and chemicals that are said to mimic the effects of marijuana consumption. The chemicals in synthetic marijuana bind to the same brain receptors as THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, and it can produce similar--if not more intense--effects as those made by traditional marijuana consumption. It is often distributed in small packets labeled as "herbal incense" under names like Spice or K2.
A recent study by the British Journal of Pharmacology found that synthetic marijuana users experienced a "high" similar to traditional marijuana users, but the effects were even more incapacitating. Even a low dose impaired study participants' behavior.
Besides the British study, there have been very few scientific studies of the effects and potential dangers of synthetic marijuana. However, a number of states have reported that people can easily overdose on synthetic marijuana products. Reported side effects include anxiety, psychosis and loss of consciousness.
Georgia Synthetic Marijuana Laws
Possession and use of synthetic marijuana is completely illegal in Georgia. The Georgia legislature outlawed synthetic marijuana in 2012. The bill was called Chase's Law, after 16-year-old Chase Corbitt Burnett who died shortly after experimenting with synthetic marijuana.
The Georgia legislature determined that synthetic marijuana had "an extremely high potential for abuse" and outlawed a number of specific synthetic marijuana compounds. These synthetic marijuana compounds are considered Schedule 1 substances, those with the highest potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
To give you a sense of how seriously Georgia takes synthetic marijuana enforcement, heroin is also a Schedule 1 drug. A first-time conviction for possession of a Schedule 1 drug is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
In Georgia, it is also illegal to drive while under the influence of synthetic marijuana. A first-time driving under the influence of drugs (DUI-Drugs) conviction can result in a minimum of 24 hours in jail, a $300 fine, probation, community service and a the possibility of more jail time is charged with possession of marijuana in Georgia. These are the minimum consequences. Many Georgia jurisdictions treat DUI-Drugs more harshly.
If a person is charged with possession of a controlled substance (such as synthetic marijuana) in addition to DUI, the possession charge carries its own 6-month license suspension and other penalties.
The recent stories about Georgia synthetic marijuana arrests also point to another potential legal consequence of driving under the influence: when the police pull over a DUI suspect, they may search the vehicle or uncover evidence of additional crimes, including drug possession.