Rolling Kansas.

When I was in Kansas for the holidays, I heard friends whispering about a new drug surfacing in Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas.

K2, everyone called it -- mock pot. It's basically an assortment of dried-out plant matter sprayed with a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high. Midwestern smoke shops have been peddling K2 in bags of smokeable incense, and sure enough, lawmakers in both Kansas and Missouri have already set their sights on banning the substance. According to Kansas City’s Pitch Weekly, testimony at the Kansas Capitol has been marked by paranoia and hearsay:

One officer says the first thing his department did upon hearing about K2 was search YouTube for clips and read the video comments. Another says he heard about a blog telling of a teen who went into a coma for 12 hours after smoking K2.

Reefer Madness, anyone? The frenzy to outlaw a substance based on rumor and assumption marks an interesting departure from what Paul recently described as America’s increasingly sane attitude toward drug policy.

I’m not suggesting apprehension about a new drug is entirely irrational. Genuine investigation could prove that K2 indeed warrants restriction -- even a ban. The real question, though, isn’t whether K2 should be legal. It’s why K2 showed up in the first place.

K2 is largely unresearched and, yes, possibly harmful, but people’s pursuit of a legal high is evidence that demand for marijuana -- or a chemically similar cousin -- isn’t going anywhere. Forty-two percent of Americans say they’ve smoked pot, and according to Gallup, an all-time high of 44 percent of Americans support outright legalization. Limit that legalization to medicinal marijuana, and a recent ABC poll pegs support at 81 percent.

The bottom line is simple. Those who choose to smoke would prefer to do so legally. If states adopted a more rational approach to drug laws, we wouldn’t see people turning to transiently legal, potentially dangerous alternatives.

--Rebecca Delaney

Rebecca Delaney is a Prospect editorial intern.