By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 22, 2011) -- There's no more wiggle room for Soldiers who want to use marijuana substitutes like "Spice" or K2.
New rules by both the Army and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency make at least one thing clear to Soldiers: Spice will burn you.
In February, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh issued a memorandum that establishes an Army-wide policy prohibiting the use and possession of synthetic cannabis and other substitutes for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC, the primary psychoactive constituent of marijuana.
On March 1, the DEA also made Spice illegal nationwide for at least a year.
The product Spice, and other products that use that name generically, are sold in packets and appear as a shredded green herb, similar to marijuana. The product is a delivery system for synthetic cannabinoids, and when smoked gives users an effect similar to that of smoking marijuana.
"Synthetic cannabis and THC substitutes are so closely related in action to THC as to make it obvious that synthetic cannabis and THC substitutes will have the same potential for abuse as THC," wrote McHugh in his memo. "It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that synthetic cannabis and THC substitutes have substantial capabilities of creating hazards to the mission of the Army, the health of the user and to the safety of the Army community."
McHugh's memo spells out clearly what the Army's rules are for the drug.
In regards to Spice and other similar synthetic marijuana products, Soldiers from all components of the Army are prohibited from "using, possessing, manufacturing, selling, distributing, importing into or exporting from the United States, or introducing into any installation, vessel, vehicle, or aircraft used by or under the control of the Army."
The DEA also took action on synthetic marijuana products by temporarily placing five synthetic cannabinoids into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, right alongside PCP, Ecstasy, and real marijuana.
The DEA's addition of the synthetic cannabinoids into the Controlled Substances Act means that it is no longer just prohibited for Soldiers to use them - it's illegal now for all Americans to possess and use them.
Buddy Horne, with the Army substance abuse program, said that while the DEA's listing of the drug is only temporary, and can be reevaluated within a year, the same is not true of the Army's policy.
"Our Secretary of the Army memo is permanent until rescinded," he said.
While it's now illegal for Soldiers to use or posses Spice, the Army is working to develop an easy way for commanders to test Soldiers who might have used the drug. Right now that is not so easy to do.
Horne said there are no "production labs" now to test to see if a Soldier has used Spice. The production labs, he explained, are the ones that conduct the 1.2 million or so drug tests each year as part of the Army's random drug testing program. Those same labs can conduct on-demand drug testing for commanders who have "probable cause" to believe that a Soldier might have used a drug.
"That's a legal term where I have found something on that Soldier, in his room, in his car, in his possession, that would allow me now with a lawyer's support to say now I can test this Soldier for this particular drug because we found some kind of evidence," Horne said.
There are production labs similar to the Army's labs that serve all branches of the service. They are operated by the different services, but are funded by the DoD, and operate under DoD policy. The labs currently test every incoming specimen for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and heroin.
There are additional tests the production labs are capable of doing, and they apply those tests randomly to specimens on a rotating basis, or at the request of a commander for a specific drug.
What is not in the battery of tests available at the production labs now is a test for Spice. The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology can conduct such a test; however, it requires there be an open case from CID to conduct such a test.
But the Army is looking for ways to remedy that situation.
"The Army is getting closer to the point where we can start identifying Soldiers for Spice, other than just random testing," Horne said. "If we get to the point where we get a civilian contract lab approved, we get a contract vehicle that can support that, we would open it up to commanders for probable-cause testing."
Horne went on to say that it's important the Army select such a lab carefully because they want to ensure testing is done accurately, to protect the Soldier. He also said the Army wants to ensure that a lab is trustworthy with its handling of evidence, so test results could be used to process actions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"We want to ensure a product that we're using taxpayer's money for is legitimate," Horne said.