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No Love “Molly”: Challenges facing Arizona and Federal Authorities in Regulating Synthetic Drugs

Ongoing Efforts by States and Federal Officials to ban synthetic drugs; Trends; Dangers of synthetic drugs; Arizona imitation drug laws, penalties and consequences.

“Molly” isn’t the new kid on the block. She’s been reigning terror on high school, college campuses, nightclubs, concerts, streets and the social scene for decades.  “Molly” is simply “Ecstasy” in disguise and more dangerous.  She can be deadly even in her purest form.  But with the age of new synthetic drugs and their combinations, she has become more lethal than ever before.

Recently, we learned of 11 people that required hospitalization at a Northwest college for an overdose of synthetic drug “Molly,” a more refined version of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine).

So far there have been four arrests of other students on campus, for synthetic drug possession and intent to sell, by police as authorities attempt to find the source of the drugs in this incident.

The hospitalizations and medical incidents resulting from use of “Molly” were reportedly not first of their kind this year. Health officials reported last fall, a campus-wide email was sent to students alerting them that other students had recently been hospitalized as a result of synthetic drug use.

Article Overview

In this article we will discuss important topics related to imitation drugs; their dangers, drugs; state and federal efforts to ban synthetic drugs; trends; other injuries caused as a result of their use; and Arizona synthetic drug laws, penalties, and other consequences.

One such consequence is the need for criminal defense. A majority of this article has been dedicated to raising awareness, providing education and resources particularly with regard to the deadly health dangers of “Molly”, “bath salts”, imitation Marijuana and other synthetic drugs. In addition to the health dangers of synthetic drugs, is the high risk of criminal liability that exists as a result of using them.

History of Illegal Synthetic Drugs

The use of intoxicating or mind-altering substances by humans has been traced back nearly as far as the species’ history has been chronicles. People have been ingesting substances with these effects since living in caves. Until recently, they have been natural products or by products of plants and fungi found in the wild, with varying physiological risk factors.

Manmade substances, however, tend to have more dangerous qualities. More than a century ago, in the late 19th century, heroin, amphetamine and cocaine were first synthesized for medical purposes. In recent decades, though, drugs made to mimic those substances – often referred to as “designer drugs” or “synthetic drugs” have flooded the market, often with a much more dangerous effect.

“Molly” and other Synthetic Drugs: Effects and Dangers

A user does not necessarily have to “overdose” to suffer injury or death from using “Molly” or any other synthetic illicit drug, for that matter.

Illegal synthetic drugs, also known as designer drugs, bath salts and a number of other names are unpredictable and dangerous. They have proven to have wide ranging of serious health dangers.

It is usually is sold in a powder form of the drug “Ecstasy,” and has proven to be even more dangerous than Ecstasy. “Molly” possesses hallucinogenic properties which distort the user’s experience of reality, time, and senses. It triggers severe vision and auditory hallucinations. Its psychological disturbances can result in confusion, and depression that has been occasionally linked to suicide.

MDMA has many of the physical effects as that of other stimulants such as cocaine.  It increases heart rate, blood pressure, causes teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, faintness, and chills or sweating. In higher doses, it can interfere with the body’s abilities to eliminate harmful toxins; the ability to regulate body temperature resulting in hyperthermia; cause liver, kidney, or cardiovascular system failure, and lead to death.

“Molly” is sometimes manufactured to include other dangerous substances which can be harmful in and of themselves, such as “bath salts” putting the user at an even greater health risk. Then when Marijuana or alcohol is added to the mix it can quickly become deadly.

Synthetic Marijuana and Bath Salts

Another major news outlet reported one of many traumatic stories of many young people who were lost after taking synthetic drugs.

Many synthetic drugs are much more dangerous that the substances they are created to mimic. For example, Marijuana has few proven negative physiological effects, even by regular users. However, many of the substances designed allegedly to recreate the effects of marijuana, like “Spice” and “K-2” have much darker results when taken.

Synthetic drugs consist of chemical compounds that are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any governmental agency.  Reported adverse effects from even one-time use include hallucinations, extreme violent behavior, unconsciousness, memory loss, seizures, brain damage and death. Additionally, overdoses of synthetic marijuana can result vomiting, seizures, stroke, heart failure, coma and death.

What makes these drugs particularly dangerous is that the users, many of whom are young people, believe them to be safer than traditional controlled substances.But that is far from the truth.  Many users and buyers have no idea what chemicals they are ingesting, how the drug was formulated or how potent it may be. It’s not uncommon for a synthetic drug’s potency to reach up to 500 x the strength of the non-synthetic drug it is intended to mimic. Some of the substances used in the formulations are not made for human consumption at all, and often result in serious injuries or death.

Designer drugs are often sold in convenience stores, on the street, and what some refer to as “head shops.” Those sold by retailers often have the appearance of legality, due to labeling, as well as the substance for which it is being represented. For example, many of these drugs are sold as the legal substance potpourri. However, potpourri is not intended to be ingested by humans. Yet, the potpourri being packaged and sold, may be covered or powdered with the illegal synthetic drug.

While most stores have stopped selling them over-the-counter, they are still often available to people who come into stores and ask.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse,  “bath salts”,  are considered a family of synthetic drug combinations that result in severe intoxication, and serious side effects. Adverse effects reported include paranoia, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, inability to control body temperature, psychotic behavior, violent behavior, and have been reported to lead to death.

Arizona Imitation Drug Laws and Penalties

Arizona has struggled to stay on top of regulating and prohibiting synthetic drugs. When the government cracks down on a synthetic drug, like bath salts, the designers of these substances simply create a new one, with little to no regard for safety. This is what makes these substances both so dangerous and so difficult to regulate.

In 2013, then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2327, which added several substances, including synthetic marijuana, to the list of controlled substances under Arizona law. This followed a bill she signed in 2011, which intended to do the same but did not go far enough.

Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-3451 defines an “imitation controlled substance” as “a drug, substance or immediate precursor which does or does not contain a controlled substance that by texture, consistency or color or dosage unit appearance as evidenced by color, shape, size or markings, apart from any other representations, packaging or advertisements, would lead a reasonable person to believe that the substance is a controlled substance but it is a counterfeit preparation.”

This definition is far different from other controlled substances. Other controlled substances are listed by their chemical compounds, pharmaceutical name or chief ingredients in the law, and placed under a particular Schedule. However, as demonstrated, this is extremely difficult with designer drugs, since new compounds are invented all the time. This, however, does not mean that synthetic drugs are legal to manufacture, sell or possess. People in Maricopa County are frequently prosecuted for charges relating to spice, K-2, bath salts, and other designer substances.

Synthetic versions of Marijuana, Cocaine and Ecstasy have been classified as “dangerous drugs” under the 2013 law. The mere possession is a Class 4 felony, with a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years in prison. Possession for the purpose of sale is a Class 3 felony, punishable by presumptive sentence of 3.5 years. A person found guilty of trafficking of these substances is a Class 2 felony, with a presumptive sentence of five years.

Federal Synthetic Drug Laws and Efforts to Ban Them

Federal Officials have also faced similar challenges in their efforts to prohibit designer drugs. Currently the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case, McFadden v. United States, a case involving synthetic drugs and the Controlled Substances Analogue Act (UPDATED 3/6/2015: This case has been scheduled for oral argument on April 21).Under the Act, substances that are “substantially similar” to controlled substances are illegal.

The defendant in the case, who was convicted of the sale of controlled substances (bath salts), argues that the law is unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. He is appealing his conviction on the grounds that the government should be required to prove he knew the substances were substantially similar, or deliberately avoiding knowing they were. The government says it should only have to prove he knew they were intended for human consumption.

A ruling on the case would only directly impact the federal law. However, laws on controlled substances have often had the effect of trickling down to state law. This ruling may have an impact on the way Arizona regulates designer drugs.

The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, part of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act of 2012, outlines 26 types of synthetic drugs that fall within Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Schedule of drugs ranges from 1 to 5 with Schedule 1 being the most dangerous. Schedule 1 drugs are described as those drugs with a high potential of abuse; no currently accepted medical or safety use in the USA

Under the Controlled Substances Act, many synthetic drugs are allowed to be treated as controlled substances if they are proven to be chemically or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance. Between 2011 and 2013, the DEA added 11 more synthetic drugs, and chemical substances to that list.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures all 50 states, have banned synthetic drugs that target two main categories of synthetic drugs:

  • Cannabinoids – Synthetic marijuana”, “Spice”, “K2”, “Genie” which may be smoked or ingested.
  • Cathinones – Commonly known as “Bath Salts”, made from plant based psychoactive substances. Street names may include “purple wave”, “while dove”, or “ocean burst”. They can be inhaled or ingested.

A majority of those states used legislation to do ban them. The problem however is that the slightest variation or combination of chemicals creates a new drug intended to be similar to the ones banned by the laws.

In response to the manufacturing tactics intended to circumvent the laws, states have been passing more general laws and broader language cover certain classes of a drugs and precursor chemicals, not approved for medical or research use.

Some states are restricting marketing, displays, labeling, and sponsored ads under consumer protection laws, by classifying such use of it as deceptive trade practices. Efforts have also been made to use agricultural regulations and other criminal laws to prosecute the retailers and sellers of these products.

Though many, particularly students get access to these drugs from friends or purchase them from others on campus, they can also be purchased at retail stores. These drugs are often sold in convenience stores under different names, and disguised as different products. They may also be sold on the internet. Recent organized efforts have been launched by legislators to reduce the accessibility of these drugs. On February 10, 2015, signed by 43 State and other jurisdictional attorneys to nine major oil companies. They are being asked to work with their franchisees toward prohibition of illegal synthetic drugs sales from their gas stations and convenience stores; and asking them to take specific actions in this regard.

Other Injuries resulting in Criminal and Civil Liability from Synthetic Drug Use

Many crimes against victims have been reported as a result of synthetic drug use, as a result of violent of a user’s violent behaviors, wrongdoing or neglect while under the influence. Some crimes offenses reported include but are not limited to the following:

  • Domestic Violence or abuse;
  • Assault and aggravated assault;
  • Injuries or death resulting from discharge of a firearms, or use of deadly weapons; Sexual assault;
  • Burns;
  • Falls;
  • Injuries to bystanders, or witnesses due to violent outbursts;
  • One or multiple vehicle accidents caused by drugged drivers;
  • Disoriented and delusional users running out into traffic, causing auto accidents;
  • Pedestrian and bike accidents
  • Child, or elderly abuse or neglect;
  • Animal abuse or neglect

Such crimes can result in both criminal and civil liability to the user.

Criminal Defense for Synthetic Drug Charges in Tempe and Maricopa County

Synthetic drugs have gained a great deal of attention as their threat to public health has become more well-known. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, therefore, may take a more aggressive approach in the prosecution of these offenses, especially if they involve allegations of selling these substances to children.

As in any drug case, the primary evidence in prosecution of designer drugs charges is often the substances themselves. Prosecutors must prove every element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the admissibility of the drugs is usually vital to securing a conviction.

Law enforcement usually obtains the evidence as part of a search. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of people in American against unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, a search of anywhere where a defendant may have a reasonable expectation of privacy requires a warrant.

If police violated a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights in obtaining evidence, the defendant’s lawyer can file a motion to suppress the evidence. Without that critical evidence, the charges may be reduced or dismissed.

This is one of a number of defenses that may be available to those charged with offenses relating to synthetic drugs. If you face criminal charges related to synthetic drug crimes, you should consult an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney. James Novak, of the Law Office of James Novak is a former prosecutor, and highly skilled drug defense attorney.

If retained, James Novak will carefully examine the case against his clients, to tailor and present the best the best defense strategy based on the circumstances. He will fight to protect your rights, and work to get the most favorable outcome in the case. The Law Office of James Novak, serves clients throughout Maricopa County, including Tempe, Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert. Contact The Law Office of James Novak today for a free consultation.

Additional Resources

You may also be interested in reading:

Arizona Teens Hospitalized for Overdosing on Synthetic Marijuana

Bath Salts” and “Spice” Lead to Nation-wide Crackdown and Arrests

Other Posts About Drug Charges

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