The use of so-called synthetic marijuana has become more prevalent in the Houston area. In March, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan obtained a court order to close a smoke shop in the residential neighborhood of Montrose that was selling a version of synthetic marijuana known as “Kush.” According to court records, undercover Houston police officers found the shop was selling 15 to 20 bags of the substance per day, using images of a popular cartoon character to market the product to children.
What Is Synthetic Marijuana?
“Synthetic marijuana” is a term used to describe a broad category of chemicals that are used to simulate the effects of THC, the active ingredient in naturally grown cannabis.
Synthetic marijuana—or synthetic cannabis, as most law enforcement and public health officials refer to these chemicals—is designed to interact with the brain in the same manner as THC. But synthetic cannabis has little relation to marijuana; manufacturers simply spray the synthetic chemicals on dried plant leaves to emulate the appearance of the real thing.
Synthetic cannabis was originally developed by a scientist in South Carolina who was studying brain receptors, according to an article published last August in the Washington Post. The scientist’s original formula, published in 1993, inadvertently spawned “large scale” production of synthetic cannabis as a recreational drug in the late 2000s.
Today there are hundreds of variations of synthetic marijuana. This highlights one of the key dangers of the drug: You never know exactly what chemicals the producers are using. A February article in Slate noted there are over 28,000 reported emergency room visits each year due to synthetic cannabis usage.
Driving Under the Influence of Synthetic Marijuana
Last September, new legislation took effect in Texas designed to increase criminal penalties for synthetic cannabis use. Possession of as little as two ounces of synthetic cannabis is considered a Class B misdemeanor. The new laws not only ban many known compounds used in synthetic marijuana, but also any substance “intended to mimic a controlled substance or controlled substance analogue.”
Driving a vehicle under the influence of any illegal drug is a crime in Texas. With respect to organic marijuana, a person can be charged with DUI if a blood or urine test detects any amount of the substance in a person’s system.
The same is true of synthetic marijuana compounds, although typically these are harder to detect. A report prepared last year by the Houston Investigative Support Center noted Harris County law enforcement have “been finding synthetic cannabinoids in many of their DUI cases.”
Yet prosecutors have been reluctant to charge drivers “since there aren’t any studies describing human toxicity or impairment related to this drug type.” This may be changing, however, with the adoption of the new synthetic cannabis laws.
A Houston Synthetic Marijuana Attorney Can Help
If you have been charged with a drug crime or DUI related to the possession or use of synthetic marijuana, you need to take the matter seriously. An experienced DWI attorney can help ensure prosecutors and the courts respect your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with a Houston DUI attorney right away.