Synthetic Drugs: Are they worse than the real thing?

On August 22, 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed SCS-28289, which criminalized the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession of synthetic drugs commonly labeled as “bath salts” or “plant food” in New Jersey.  The bill, now known as “Pamela’s Law,” which was ultimately codified in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5.3a (manufacture, distribution, and sale) and 2C:35-10.3a (possession) was named in memory of Pamela Schmidt, a Rutgers student and Warren Township resident, who was believed to have been murdered by an individual under the influence of synthetic drugs. 

 The following chemicals, all synthetic cannabinoids, are now a part of the Controlled Dangerous Substance (“CDS”) Act as Schedule I drugs:

·      3,4          – Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV)

·      4             – Methylmethcathinone (Mephedrone, 4-MMC)

·      3,4          – Methylenedioxymethcathinone (Methylone, MDMC)

·      4             – Fluoromethcathinone (Flephedrone, 4-FMC)

·      3             – Fluoromethcathinone (3-FMC)

·      4             – Methyxymethcathinone (Methedrone, bk-PMMA, PMMC

These chemicals are commonly found in products falsely labeled as “bath salts” or “plant food” with brand names such as “Energizing Aromatherapy,” “Kamikaze,” “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” “Red Dove,” “Blue Silk,” “Vanilla Sky,” and many others.  Until recently, they were available for purchase online and in local gas stations, convenience stores, and smoke shops. 

The chemicals are sprayed on a mixture of common herbs, creating the synthetic marijuana, which is also referred to as “K2” or “Spice.”  In some instances, the chemicals have even been marketed as a cocaine substitute.

Consumption of these chemicals can cause extreme, severe physical and psychological symptoms including:  extreme anxiety, paranoia, delusional thinking, visual and auditory hallucinations, violent outbursts, self-mutilation, suicidal thoughts, increased blood pressure and heart rate, severe chest pains, and jerky muscle movements.  There have been well over 500 cases of adverse reactions of the chemicals since 2009, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

In addition to the fact that synthetic marijuana was recently available over the counter and online, another attractive quality for consumers was the inability to detect synthetic marijuana in standard drug tests. However, a recent drug test has been developed for synthetic marijuana, which decreases the utility of the synthetic version as opposed to the real thing.

What are the penalties for possession/distribution of synthetic marijuana in New Jersey?

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5.3a, it is a crime of the second degree to manufacture, distribute, sell, or possess with the intent to manufacture, distribute or sell synthetic drugs where the quantity involved is one ounce or more.  Where the quantity involved is less than one ounce, it becomes a crime of the third degree.

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10.3a, it is a crime of the third degree to possess synthetic drugs, where the quantity involved is one ounce or more.  Where the quantity involved in less than one ounce, it becomes a crime of the fourth degree.

Crimes of the second degree are punishable by up to 10 years in New Jersey State Prison.  Crimes of the third degree are punishable by up to 5 years in New Jersey State Prison.  Crimes of the fourth degree are punishable by up to 18 months in New Jersey State Prison.

Obviously, this means that crimes associated with synthetic drugs are serious, with serious consequences.  In fact, the punishments associated with the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession of synthetic marijuana are higher than those associated with “real” marijuana.   (In some cases, charges associated with “real” marijuana only rise to the level of a disorderly persons offense, as opposed to a crime.)

What should I do if I am charged with the manufacture, distribution, sale or possession of synthetic drugs in New Jersey?

Contact a lawyer.  Unlike with “real” drugs, law enforcement officers are not yet equipped with field test kits to detect the presence of synthetic drugs.  Therefore, if they fail to follow proper procedure and send the suspected synthetic drugs to the laboratory for testing, the charges can be dismissed.

Our criminal defense team is composed of seven (7) criminal defense lawyers with over 100 years of experience representing clients throughout New Jersey. With former prosecutors on staff, our criminal defense team is ready and able to represent you against charges for possession or distribution of synthetic marijuana. Contact our office anytime for a free initial consultation at (732)450-8300.