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US Senate Passes Synthetic Drug Ban, Without Mandatory Minimums [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #736)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

The Senate has passed House Resolution 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which would federally criminalize the possession, distribution, and manufacture of synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"). The measure has already passed the House, and President Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law.

The synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "herbal incense" and sold under brand names such as K2 and Spice, while the synthetic stimulants are marketed as "bath salts" and sold under a variety of names, including Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky. Poison control centers and emergency rooms around the country have reported a sharp increase in synthetic drug incidents in the past two years, with Spice users reporting adverse effects similar to those sometimes reported with marijuana, while bath salts users have suffered more serious adverse effects, including hallucinations, psychotic breaks, and death.

Fake pot or bath salts or both are already banned in a number of states, and more states are considering criminalizing them. Both types of drugs have already been subject to emergency bans by the DEA while its legislatively mandated process for evaluating new drugs proceeds.

A widely publicized incident over the weekend in which a man chewed off parts of another man's face before being shot and killed by police has heightened concerns about the new synthetics, generating headlines like "Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful 'bath salts' drug," but at this point, such claims are pure speculation. Police in the case have also posited "a new form of LSD" and "cocaine psychosis" to explain the attack, but any real information will have to await a toxicologist's report.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had single-handedly blocked passage of the bill for months by placing a senatorial hold on it. Paul objected to harsh mandatory minimum sentences in the bill, as well as to further broadening of the federal war on drugs.

But bill supporters, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), resorted to a parliamentary maneuver to get it passed. They quietly attached it to an FDA regulatory bill, which the Senate passed last Wednesday.

Sen. Rand Paul got mandatory minimums removed
Still, Sen. Paul was able to insert language into the bill specifying that the Controlled Substance Act's mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for anyone supplying a drug that causes severe bodily harm or death to a user does not apply to the newly banned synthetics. That's because in order to get the FDA bill approved by Memorial Day, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who actually sponsored the amendment adding the synthetics to the FDA bill, had to win unanimous consent for his amendment. Paul agreed not to object after Portman inserted the language about the mandatory minimums.

The bill still contains draconian sentencing provisions, including sentences of up to 20 years for a first sale or manufacturing offense and up to 30 years for a subsequent offense.

The bill's sponsors said after the vote that its passage would strike a strong blow against the new synthetics, but industry advocates and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) disagree.

"Let this be a warning to those who make a profit manufacturing and selling killer chemical components to our teens and children: the jig is up," Schumer said in a statement. "This bill closes loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensures that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly synthetic drugs."

"These new designer drugs can kill, and if we don't take action, they are going to become more and more prevalent and put more and more people at risk," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another sponsor of the bill said in a statement. "Today's action is good news for this critical legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs before they put more lives in danger, and I will continue to work to ensure these provisions are signed into law."

But the Retail Compliance Association (RCA), which represents smoke shop and convenience store operators and which opposed the bill, pointed out that the bill only bans five chemical families and only names 15 synthetic cannabinoids. Many of those compounds are already off the market, the RCA said, adding that the bill does not include hundreds of additional compounds unrelated to the chemical families banned under it.

"This bill will be touted as banning what law enforcement has deemed 'fake pot,' but it does no such thing; it actually only bans a few of the potential ingredients of these products, by no means the products themselves," said RCA spokesman Dan Francis. "The bill's range of enforcement may well be limited to the specifically named compounds because labs cannot test for chemical families, nor can the police or retailers. The products are tested by many different levels of this industry, and no lab I have spoken with has a test to determine the chemical family," Francis added.

The CBO, for its part, published a cost analysis of the bill in November that found its impact would be minimal.

"Based on information from industry and law enforcement experts, CBO expects that, by the date of the legislation's enactment, most vendors will have largely replaced the banned substances with new products because many states have already passed legislation banning some or all of the compounds listed in the bill and because the DEA has already issued emergency rules temporarily banning five cannabimimetic agents and three synthetic stimulants," the analysis found.

Still, Congress can pat itself on the back for "doing something" about the new synthetic drugs -- whether or not it actually does anything good.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


The Children (not verified)

It's always "about the children" with these douche bags. The worst part is that a majority of Americans eat that shit up and base their opinions on BS like that. Makes my head hurt.

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 9:33pm Permalink
BrandonGray (not verified)

the ignorant sheeple giving their masters even more power - this country deserves everything it is about to get in the coming century of government tyranny.

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 10:04pm Permalink
Hal Sear (not verified)

If Congressman Schumer really wants to deal a blow to the synthetic drug industry, he could repeal cannabis prohibition. How about quietly attaching that to an FDA regulatory bill? Not this week? 

So it would appear that what he really wants to do is allocate a few more billion dollars to fighting the unwinnable War on Drugs. Little surprise that "President Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law." 

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 12:20am Permalink
Raj (not verified)

This new set of bans indicates that the state is trying to outlaw people not a substance. 

If one finds a legal substitute for banned chemicals people should be lauded for trying to cooperate with the law -- instead of being reclassified as criminals. I think these laws defy the solid basis of Natural Law  which underlies the constitution. People have a right to find substitute products that suit their enjoyment and way of life.

It really shows how a powerful faction, the DEA, within the government can trample people's natural enjoyments based on a few isolated incidence. The DEA are also responsible for driving up healthcare costs secretly because of their over prohibitive regulations and draconian controls on all painkilling and antimicrobial products. 

Everyone one is being fleeced, lied, and told to fight long and covert wars to ban products, which  will always be in natural demand. The painful personal hells DEA regulations are causing by their over control of any form of pain medication is disgraceful. They are acting like the tyrannical enforcers of the middle ages devoid of the civil values and human regard which America and the modern world founded upon.  

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 1:32pm Permalink
Anonymous51464899 (not verified)

This article is incorrect.

HR 1254 has not passed the senate:

S 3187 has not passed the house:

A bill can pass the senate before passing the house.

Visit this link for a detailed explanation:

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 10:11pm Permalink
Anonymous009482 (not verified)

Well wont this be a "joy" to watch judging by the information 

Sat, 06/02/2012 - 12:58am Permalink
Veteran (not verified)

The "war on drugs" continues. Yeah that's bull, and we all know it. This is a democracy and we are spending BILLIONS of dollars on a war against ourselves. Clearly a greater majority of people in our country smoke pot, or these synthetic drugs never even would have come to be. Fix out economy and get rid of this crap that kills people by legalizing pot. You know people are still going to do what they want, and they should be free to as long as it doesn't affect others. A ban wont do anything but put people who want to be left alone in jail even if they haven't hurt anyone, that is why pot still exists.

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 4:30pm Permalink
arewereallyfree? (not verified)

If synthetic drugs are a problem, why don't we section off a part of the U.S. to make everything legal, and make it so that the drugs and people who use them are contained. Let them live how they want without effecting the innocent. But in the sectioned off area they could make it so that the drug users cannot leave unless they could pass a drug test. Sound appealing? It would also take care of the population that's on drugs, eventually letting the drug users die off and then we could repopulate the sectioned off area with healthy people that aren't on drugs.
Wed, 09/26/2012 - 9:05am Permalink

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