Two longtime senators on Wednesday made their case that synthetic marijuana is taking an especially heavy toll on troops — and they urged the military to play a bigger role in getting the problem under control.
In a letter last week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the drugs "pose a risk to the operational readiness of our armed forces."
The products are marketed as smoke-able incense under brand names such as "K2" and "Spice," which gave the drug group its most common nickname.
"The use of these drugs among our men and women serving in the armed forces is especially concerning from an operational and readiness standpoint while our armed services are still engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beginning operations in Libya," Grassley said Wednesday at a meeting to discuss the use of the drugs.
Feinstein and Grassley co-chair the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, which conducted the session.
All branches of the military have banned the drugs, which the Drug Enforcement Administration describes as a mixture of herbs and spices that are sprayed with a synthetic compound similar to THC, a component in marijuana that gives it its high-inducing effect.
The DEA used its emergency powers in November to outlaw synthetic marijuana products while the government considers making them permanently illegal. The ban is in effect for one year.
But that hasn't stopped use of the drugs by those serving in the armed forces.
Some of the highest profile cases have come from the Navy. By the end of March, 196 sailors had either been caught with or were accused of using the drug, said Lt. Alana Garas, a Navy spokeswoman.