For years, a semi-legal market for synthetic substitute drugs thrived in the United States, including here in Georgia. There were a whole range of products, from pills called Molly intended to duplicate the effects of MDMA to bath salts which gave a stimulating high similar to that of meth or cocaine. These drugs were almost all created using so-called "research chemicals" imported from China. Labeled as not for human consumption, they were sold to people who clearly intended to consume them.
Herbal incenses, also called synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice or other brand names, were certainly one of the most popular synthetic drugs around the country. While very few locations still sell "watch cleaner," "plant feeder pills" or Flakka to people, plenty of convenience stores and gas stations still stock herbal incense brands. Smoking these items is a crime at both the state and federal level, just like possession of actual marijuana.
Georgia banned synthetic marijuana in 2012
Following reports of people ending up sick or even dead after accidentally overdosing on herbal incense, state governments began cracking down on this newly popular drug. Many people were already using it. People believed that because they could "legally" buy the drugs in stores, they were safer than street drugs. Many in the military or in industrial jobs sought out synthetic marijuana because unlike natural marijuana it would not show up on a standard drug screening.
Unfortunately, unlike natural marijuana, the synthetic version has shown itself to be both addictive and potentially deadly. With no control over dosage due to questionable manufacturing practices, the potency could vary drastically from batch to batch. In response to a fatal overdose of a young teen, lawmakers added the common chemicals used for synthetic marijuana to the Schedule I list of controlled substances in Georgia, making possessing it a felony that carries anywhere from one to 15 years in prison.
Synthetic drugs are also illegal at the federal level
Initially published in 1986 as part of the Controlled Substances Act, the Federal Analogue Act makes any research chemicals used to produce a high illegal. Under this law, any new chemical or compound created specifically to replicate the effects of a federally banned substance is as illegal as the substance it aims to replace.
While the makers of herbal incense and synthetic marijuana may tweak or change chemical compounds to avoid using explicitly banned chemicals, they are all in violation of the Federal Analogue Act.
Getting caught with synthetic marijuana in Georgia is a felony. If you try to cross states lines with these substances or order them via the mail, you could find yourself facing federal prosecution. What's more, newer drug tests are better able to detect popular synthetic drugs, including some of the active compounds used in the making of herbal incense.