The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says synthetic marijuana poses an imminent hazard to public safety and will therefore become a Schedule 1 controlled substance starting Feb. 10. For commercial drivers, the use or possession of the drug would be considered a disqualifying offense under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
The DEA filed a notice of intent in the Federal Register on Friday, Jan. 10, targeting a special “temporary” designation for synthetic cannabis as a controlled substance effective Feb. 10 – based on the determination that the drug is an imminent hazard. Once the temporary listing is in place, federal agencies will initiate a formal rulemaking to make the Schedule 1 listing permanent.
Synthetic cannabis is a chemical compound produced in a laboratory. It is not an organic product. Retail “head shops” and other locations sell the products under a dozen or more brand names such as K2, Spice or Crazy Clown. The products are marketed mainly to an under-30 crowd as a form of inhalant or incense that can be smoked when mixed with plant material.
There are currently no approved medicinal uses for the drugs, and they have a high potential for abuse especially among young people, the DEA stated in its research.
“The vast majority of (synthetic cannabis) are manufactured in Asia by individuals who are not bound by any manufacturing requirements or quality control standards,” the DEA stated. “There is an incorrect assumption that these products are safe.”
The effects of the drugs can vary. The DEA says the drugs cause inability to stand, foaming at the mouth, violence toward police and paramedics, and memory lapse. Another description says synthetic cannabis induces vomiting, elevates blood seizures, and causes hallucinations and non-responsiveness.
Steve Nickell with OOIDA’s drug testing consortium, CMCI, says anything on the Schedule 1 list is illegal to use while operating a motor vehicle.
“If it’s a Schedule 1, even possession of it is illegal,” Nickell said.
Detection of synthetic cannabis may involve additional analysis beyond a traditional drug test.
“There must be something that shows up in the results that prompts them to run an additional test,” Nickell said. “But if it tests positive, you’ve just failed.”
For commercial operators, the penalty for a first conviction of a major offense under the FMCSRs is a one-year disqualification of the operator’s CDL. If the operator is hauling hazardous materials, a first-time conviction carries a three-year disqualification.
Once a driver is disqualified, he or she would not be allowed to drive commercially until the completion of a formal return-to-duty process. A second conviction for a major offense under the federal regs carries a lifetime ban from commercial driving.