Synthetic drugs pose a challenge for lawmakers

Media outlets in Arizona and across the country have reported on the growing popularity of synthetic cathinones, also called bath salts, and cannabinoid substances with street names like K2 and spice. These drugs are often formulated using legal substances in order to skirt federal narcotics laws, and they can sometimes be found on the shelves of the nation’s grocery or convenience stores. However, the windows of opportunity for synthetic drug manufacturers are generally short as lawmakers usually act quickly to close loopholes.

The government classifies illegal drugs in three ways. “Natural” drugs like marijuana are not processed or altered before they are consumed while “derivatives” such as cocaine are closely based on natural substances. However, “synthetic drugs” are made by following complex chemical formulas. Keeping up with drug producers who regularly modify their manufacturing processes has been a frustrating challenge for federal authorities.

The most notorious of these new synthetic substances are known as bath salts. Law enforcement agencies around the country say that these synthetic cathinones are seen as an inexpensive alternative to more established stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine, but they can be significantly more powerful and long-lasting than derivatives. Individuals under the influence of bath salts have been known to act violently toward themselves or others, and laws banning synthetic cathinones have been adopted in every U.S. state.

The legal penalties for possessing synthetic drugs can be stiff. With help from a lawyer, a defendant facing drug charges may be able to negotiate a more lenient sentence. When a negotiated plea agreement is not an option, an attorney could seek to have drug charges dismissed by questioning the actions of police officers or disputing the validity of searches and seizures.