Georgia lawmakers thought they had created a law with teeth that would allow police to regulate a synthetic marijuana sold as "spice," but two weeks after the bill passed, chemists created a new compound for the drug.
Chase's Law, which passed in March covered every known compound that had been previously used in the drug, said Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency Director Rick Allen. But then the crime lab discovered an entirely new compound that gives a similar high to other synthetic marijuana products and is just as dangerous.
Users experience similar symptoms as other forms of synthetic marijuana -- altered mental states, lethargy, short-term coma, seizures and psychosis. Some users also have been hospitalized.
This week, Georgia State Board and Pharmacy adopted an emergency rule classifying the new compounds of synthetic cannabinoids as Schedule I substances, giving police the authority to seize any packets sold in stores. But authorities won't have authority to arrest anyone.
Authorities admit that the constant shifting of ingredients in synthetic marijuana is an ongoing problem in both Georgia and Tennessee and it will take time to figure out how to keep the drugs off shelves.
"This is all new stuff to us," said Brad Byerley, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office in Chattanooga. "This is the stuff that is keeping me awake at night, trying to get a handle on it."
But authorities don't even know all the chemicals used to create the newly discovered drug, Allen said.
Large supplies of the compound already have been seized in multiple Georgia counties, he said. Some of the stores get rid of the fake pot when they hear that's it's banned, but that doesn't stop the manufactures.
Each time the chemical compound is banned, manufacturers go around the law and create a new formula, said Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson.
So when a new chemical is created that isn't on the list, law enforcement doesn't have the authority to seize the packets, even if they believe they're a form of fake pot, Allen said.
The new emergency ban requested by Gov. Nathan Deal gives police the authority to seize the drugs if the compound tests positive for the five new chemical ingredients. And, if possible, the state Board of Pharmacy may have to address the issue again if more chemicals are made, Deal said in a statement.
Authorities said they will continue trying to change the law until the drug can't be sold in any form, but no one knows exactly how that will be done.
"We've never had a drug you can just buy like a pack of gum," Allen said. "We're having to look at this differently than it's ever been."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...