New Federal Ban on Bath Salts and Synthetic Marijuana in Effect in Texas

In September 2011, the Texas Legislature passed a bill making the synthetic drug known as “bath salts” illegal. Around that same time, the state followed up by banning synthetic marijuana, a drug that was commonly sold under the brand names K2 and Spice.

Texas was not alone in passing these laws. Over the last few years, most states have banned synthetic drugs. However, this did not do much to keep the drugs out of the hands of prospective users. Even if bath salts and synthetic marijuana could not be sold in brick-and-mortar retail stores, they could still be easily purchased on the Internet.

Now, this is no longer the case. In early July 2012, President Obama signed a bill into law that established a federal ban on bath salts, synthetic marijuana and the chemical compounds from which these drugs are made. The federal ban applies to both interstate and online sales. Combined with existing Texas drug crime laws, the federal ban removes any question about the legality of these synthetic drugs.

What Are Bath Salts?

Bath salts are a synthetic stimulant designed to mimic the effects of methamphetamine and cocaine. They bear no relation to actual bath salts that a person might use for a relaxing soak in the tub. Instead, they carried that label with a wink and a nod – by labeling the drugs as “not for human consumption,” manufacturers were able to skirt laws that would have otherwise made the sale of the drugs illegal.

The most common active ingredients in bath salts are the chemicals mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovaleron, though the federal law bans a total of 10 bath salts-related chemical compounds.

Many people chose to use bath salts over other illegal drugs because they were readily accessible and frequently did not show up on employment or probation drug screens. Some users were also under the impression that because bath salts were legal, they were relatively safe.

This is not true, and unfortunately many people experienced significant health problems from taking bath salts. The drug can cause symptoms including agitation, extreme paranoia, hallucinations and heart problems. Many users have reported feeling violent or suicidal urges after taking the drug. In a number of cases, users have reported that the suicidal ideations did not end until several days after they had stopped taking the drug.

What is Synthetic Marijuana?

While synthetic marijuana is designed to mimic the sedative and euphoric effects of natural marijuana, it is quite different in its chemical composition. Marijuana gains its psychoactive properties from naturally-occurring cannabinoid compounds. For this reason, marijuana has gained a reputation as a relatively “soft” drug. Although prolonged or excessive marijuana use can certainly have uncomfortable and deleterious side effects, there has never been a reported case of a fatal marijuana overdose.

Synthetic marijuana, on the other hand, does not derive its intoxicating effects from plant-derived compounds. Instead, manufacturers spray a blend of dried herbs and plants with synthetic chemicals. There is little uniformity among the chemical blends used, meaning that users are rarely able to predict the effects or correct dosage of an individual packet of synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana can sometimes be stronger than the natural variety. Some users have reported extreme symptoms including hallucinations, severe anxiety and paranoia. In addition, many emergency rooms have reported treating synthetic marijuana users who were suffering from heart problems, vomiting, agitation or poisoning as a result of taking too much of the drug.

Penalties for Sale or Possession of Synthetic Drugs

The federal bans on bath salts and synthetic marijuana are designed to be overarching. Previous state laws have fallen short because they only banned a specific list of chemical compounds. Synthetic drug manufacturers were able to get around these prohibitions by creating new chemicals that offered similar intoxicating effects. To combat this trend, the federal law bans a specific list of chemicals plus all other chemical compounds designed to deliver similar effects.

The penalties for drug possession or sale of synthetic drugs under the new federal ban can be quite harsh. Bath salts and synthetic marijuana are now classified as Schedule I drugs, the most restrictive category of federal regulation. Possession or sale of the synthetic drugs can be punished by up to 20 years in federal prison. Selling the drugs to someone who is later seriously injured or killed can bring a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.

The federal penalties are on top of those levied by state law. Depending on the quantity of the drug involved, the penalties for bath salt or synthetic marijuana crimes can range from 180 days in jail to life in prison.

In the wake of the new federal ban, both federal and state authorities are cracking down on synthetic drug retailers. It is not unreasonable to suspect that customers will get caught up in these raids.

If you are accused of a synthetic drugs crime, be it for possession, sale or manufacturing, it is important to take the charges seriously. A Texas drug crimes defense attorney can help you protect your rights.