Gavin Aronsen at Mother Jones makes an important and obviously correct point: demand for the synthetic cannabinoids marketed as “Spice” and “K2″ is entirely an artifact of cannabis prohibition generally, and in particular the practice of urine-testing for cannabis metabolites by employers, schools, and criminal-justice agencies. The synthetics are, by all reports, less pleasurable and more dangerous than herbal cannabis. If the Demon Weed were made legal, they would disappear from commerce: illustrating, once again, Eric Sevareid’s maxim that the chief cause of problems is solutions.

That isn’t a conclusive argument for legalization, or for any specific legalization proposal. (If cannabis is legal for adult but still banned for minors, and if high school athletes still need to pass drug tests, some of them will use the synthetics; that doesn’t mean that pot, if legal, should be sold without age restrictions. If drugged-driving laws are enforced with chemical tests, there will be an incentive to use substitutes that don’t show up on such tests; that doesn’t prove that drugged driving should be tolerated.) But it’s a factor that needs to be weighed, along with the other costs of prohibition, against the costs of legal availability in the form of increased cannabis abuse and impaired driving.

Alas, thoughtful factor-weighing is almost as rare in the drug policy debates as accurate data.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.