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Supreme Court to hear case on synthetic drugs

Melinda Morris
By: Melinda Morris
Mar. 13 2015

redwhiteblue-pills-SThe U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled a case for oral argument over aspects of a federal law that regulates and prohibits synthetic drugs. The main question in the case is whether the government must prove the defendant knew or should have known the substances in question were an analogue of a controlled substance to convict him or her under the Controlled Substance Analogue Act of 1986. The ruling could have an impact on how states like Florida, which has struggled to stay on top of so-called designer drugs, address these substances.

Synthetic drugs are substances that have been designed with the intent of replicating the physiological effects of controlled substances. They include “spice” and “K2,” which generally are intended to imitate marijuana, or “bath salts,” which are usually intended to imitate the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine.

The case presently before the U.S. Supreme Court, McFadden v. United States, concerns whether the Controlled Substances Act Analogue Act of 1986 can be used to prosecute a Virginia video store owner who allegedly distributed “bath salts.” The law prohibits possession and sale of chemicals “substantially similar” to Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances.

The defendant in the case argued that the government must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that he knew that the substances were substantially similar, or that he deliberately avoided knowing that they were. The government argued that they only had to prove he knew they were intended for human consumption.

He was convicted and appealed. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.

A ruling on the case could only have an effect on the federal law and how it is enforced. However, it could also impact the way states like Florida address synthetic drugs. Florida has attempted to keep up with designer substances by banning compounds after they hit the market. Since 2011, there have been five legislative updates, and three emergency rules from the Florida Attorney General, each banning a new list of substances.

However, the reason these continuous updates are necessary is because as soon as compounds are banned, new ones are introduced. A ruling that the Controlled Substances Analogue Act is not too vague to address bath salts and other designer drugs could change how the state addresses these substances in the future.

Synthetic drugs are currently a hot topic among prosecutors in Florida. The popular media in Florida has provided extensive coverage of cases where synthetic drugs have caused unpredictable and sometimes fatal effects on the users of the substance. The State’s Attorney could be particularly aggressive in prosecuting these cases, so it is important that anyone accused of possession of a synthetic substance hire a skilled drug defense lawyer.

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