On Nov. 24, the Drug Enforcement Administration acted to temporarily control five chemicals commonly found in synthetic marijuana, popularity referred to as "Spice," making it illegal to sell or possess any product containing the chemicals after a 30-day period.
After the 30 days, these five chemicals (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol) will be classified as Schedule 1 substances and testing will begin on them by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This comes after more than 2,000 public inquiries and complaints in the past year that were received by the DEA, said Barbara Carreno, spokesperson for the organization.
"We have gotten a lot of calls from the public asking when we are going to ban this," she said. "We were monitoring ... we watch these kind of things. (The temporary banning) is to see if it should be controlled permanently."
Cerrano said the Department of HHS will test the synthetic cannabinoids on human subjects over the course of a year to determine health effects and likelihood for addiction.
"They will then give us a recommendation," she said.
The Federal Analog Act allows the government to classify a substance as a Schedule 1 if it is designed to mimic the effects of an already illegal drug. Synthetic cannabinoids are marked as incense and deemed not for human consumption on the packaging.
"This is an attempt to create a defense should (legal measures) be put against them," Cerrano said.
Tempe Union High School District has banned Spice from district schools. At the Nov. 17 meeting, the board approved changes to the district policy regarding imitations of illegal drugs, including synthetic cannabis.
"Language in the definition of Drug or Alcohol violation was inserted to address imitations of illegal drugs," district spokesperson Linda Littell wrote in an e-mail. "It will also provide a safeguard against the next designated drug that is created to imitate the effects of other illegal drugs."
While the district may have control over synthetic cannabis, the DEA may be fighting a war they can't win. Although the five chemicals that were made illegal were the most common for retail synthetic cannabis, Carreno admits that it is likely that different chemicals will be created to produce a similar effect.
"There are chemists out there who are always working on it," she said.
One person who would not be disappointed if different chemicals were to make it mainstream is High Maintenance Smoke Shop owner Jason Horn. High Maintenance opened in January in Gilbert, and there is also a branch in Chandler. Horn said he had not heard about Spice before opening and was told that he would see high volume requests for Spice.
"I picked some up to test (the demand) and it sold," Horn said. "It was pretty popular right away."
Horn said that after the 30-day period, he will talk to a lawyer as well as his suppliers to determine whether his shops will continue to sell synthetic cannabis.
"The last thing I want to do is get in trouble with the law," he said.
Horn, who started smoking Spice after picking it up for his shop, said he chooses to smoke Spice instead of marijuana because one is illegal and one is not, for now at least.
"My whole thing on Spice is that there are many people interested in a legal alternative to smoking weed," he said. "I have never had any issues with it. I have been smoking it for a year, and I am the same health-wise as when I started."
The first extensive testing on synthetic cannabinoids and its effects on humans will begin after the 30-day period.