D.C. Synthetic Drugs Target of Proposed Local Ban

December 12, 2012
By Daniel A. Gross on December 12, 2012 10:50 AM |

A proposed bill would have D.C. join the ranks of some 40 states that have banned so-called synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which exploded onto the market just two years ago. chaitea.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys believe the measure is somewhat redundant, as the federal government banned the substances back in July, kicking off a massive federal crackdown on importers and distributors. About 90 retailers, importers and middlemen were arrested.

The federal measure, signed by President Barack Obama, made it illegal to sell 31 specific synthetic stimulant, hallucinogenic and cannabinoid compounds. Prior to the passage of that measure, the Drug Enforcement Administration had placed them under an emergency ban. They have been historically marketed under names like Spice, K2 or Ivory Wave. These substances have been around a while, but they have only recently become popular.

They have gained notoriety with the increasing wave of emergency room visits and poison control center calls that have been attributed to their use. They can be either sniffed, snorted or smoked, and have been reported to prompt rapid heart beat, delusions and paranoia that has resulted in violent acts and even sudden suicide. Some acts have been increasingly bizarre, such as a suspected user discovered wandering in the woods of West Virginia in female underwear after stabbing a goat.

The federal law was hailed as a measure that would close loopholes that allowed manufacturers to bypass local and state measures to legally buy and sell these products.

So as of right now, anyone can be charged federally for selling the substances, but issues of individual use have been left primarily up to the states. The problem has been that these substances tend to defy the traditional classifications that we give drugs in the U.S.

For example, it's easy to say that cocaine is banned. It is a very specific substance, and even its derivatives, such as crack, tend to be comprised of the same basic ingredients or active organic/chemical compounds that make it effective. But synthetic drugs are different. That's because they are manufactured, not grown or harvested. So if the government bans one formula, manufacturers can easily go out, tweak the ingredients and come up with a new product that is street legal.

The DEA has attempted to close this loophole by, for example, defining synthetic marijuana as any substance in which a mix of spices or herbs are sprayed with a synthetic form of THC.

The D.C. proposal would restrict the use of drugs in the district. The measure was proposed by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary. He said the district has been grappling with ways to cope with the problem over the last handful of years. But this is the beginning of a formal attempt to outlaw possession of the drugs in D.C.

Our D.C. defense lawyers will be closely following the developments of this measure as it progresses.

If you have been arrested in Washington D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
D.C. joins states on synthetic drug ban, Nov. 29, 2012, By Tom Howell Jr., The Washington Times

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D.C. Restaurant Owner Pleads Guilty to Drug Carry-Out Scheme, Nov. 12, 2012, D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog