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NATIONAL REPORT — Selling synthetic drugs as an alternative to illegal or restricted drugs may seem like a safe choice for convenience store operators, but the reality is more dangerous, according to "Synthetic Drugs: Ensuring Your Entire Product Line is Legal," a Jan. 14 NACS webinar presented by the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
While suppliers of synthetic drugs, which are often sold under names such as Spice and K2, claim the products are a legal alternative to marijuana, they have actually been outlawed in numerous states, and many types have been criminalized by the federal government via the DEA. Additionally, they often cause unexpected and severe side effects that marijuana does not cause.
"They're absolutely nothing like marijuana," said one webinar presenter.
Along with the high they seek, users have experienced rapid heart rates, spiking blood pressure, vomiting, confusion, hallucinations, memory loss and even psychotic or violent behavior. Such side effects can harm people at all levels of fitness; earlier in January, New England Patriots player Chandler Jones was admitted to the hospital in Foxborough, Mass., after suffering a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana.
Popular forms of synthetic drugs include:
- Cannabinoids, which are typically sold in three- to five-gram packages of herb-like material and are smoked in pipes, rolled cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, as well as ingested in tea; and
- Synthetic cathinones, which are sold in foil or plastic packages of crystalline powder.
Certain names for synthetic drugs are common, but in reality, there is no consistent oversight or quality control over their manufacture. Many synthetic drugs are made overseas and shipped to the United States, where they are assembled in generic, non-uniform packaging purchased online in environments that more closely resemble someone's garage than a sterile environment, according to the NACS webinar.
"Just like pharmaceuticals, the abuse of synthetic drugs has become more and more prevalent," said one speaker, noting that calls to U.S. poison control centers about synthetic drugs have risen in recent years.
C-store operators, fuel distributors and property owners can all face consequences for the sale of synthetic drugs where prohibited, even if they were unaware or believed them to be legal. In case studies presented during the webinar, penalties ranged from fines to loss of business licenses to prison sentences.
The DEA and Attorney General recommend that rather than trying to distinguish between legal and illegal synthetic drugs, c-store operators err on the safe side by assuming all brands and types of synthetic drugs are illegal. They should contact local law enforcement if they are approached with an offer to sell them.
Additionally, property owners should be aware that they have an obligation to know how their tenants are operating businesses on their properties and should cooperate with law enforcement investigations to ensure tenants are complying with the laws.