Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration exercised emergency scheduling authority to temporarily control five chemicals used to make "fake pot" products. This action makes the processing and sale of these chemicals illegal in the U.S. for one year while DEA and DHHS study whether a permanent ban is justified.
DEA listed the five chemicals as Schedule 1 drugs, subjecting them to the most restricted category of controlled substances. These chemicals have been marketed as legal alternatives to marijuana under the trade names "Spice," "K2," "Blaze," "Red X Dawn," and others. DEA received reports of serious adverse health effects from the chemicals, including hallucinations, heart problems, and even fatalities in a few cases.
The U.S. military previously banned use of these substances by service members, and announced that they will be added to its controlled substance testing program. DOT has not indicated any intent to add these chemical to its mandatory driver screening program, and commercial testing for synthetic marijuana is not readily available.
Based on the growing popularity of synthetic marijuana, employers may want to add it to the list of banned substances under their drug and alcohol abuse policies. Employees could be advised of the health hazards presented by these products, and placed on notice that their possession or use will be considered a violation of the policy. Employees could also be advised that the employer reserves the right to test for these substances as permitted by applicable law.
Between synthetic marijuana and increasingly liberal medical marijuana laws in many states, employers need to make sure that their drug policies are keeping up with the marketplace for these substances.