SCOTUS addresses synthetic drugs and the Controlled Substance Act

SCOTUS holds that the government must prove those accused of synthetic drug crimes meet the "mens rea" requirement.

Synthetic drugs are defined by the Office of National Drug Control Policy as man-made chemicals, often related to amphetamines. Examples include "spice," "K2" and "bath salts." As of 2012, there were 158 officially identified synthetic substances. Efforts to curb the use of this illegal substance have been made at the federal, state and local levels.

Synthetic drugs and the law

There are a number of laws designed to address synthetic drugs. Some examples include:

  • The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012. This law officially classifies 26 types of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones as Schedule I drugs in the Controlled Substance Act.
  • The Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986. This law expands the definition of controlled substances to include synthetic drugs that "are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance."

Additional laws are often present at the state level, with 44 states enacting laws to control synthetic drugs.

Synthetic drugs and knowledge requirement

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently agreed to hear a case questioning the requirements for prosecution of a crime involving synthetic drugs. The Court was asked to determine if the government was required to prove that the accused knew the substance in question would qualify as an analogue drug under the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act. Ultimately, the court held that the government must prove "mens rea." Essentially, this means that the government had to prove that the defendant was aware the substance was similar to a controlled substance in order to move forward with prosecution.

Analogue drugs are defined as those that are "substantially similar" in both chemical structure and effect on the user, or is believed or presented as having a substantially similar effect, as certain illegal drugs. A specific list of analogue drugs is not published. Instead, courts are left to determine if an alleged analogue drug meets these qualifications.

Importance of legal counsel

Those who are accused of drug crimes should take the charges seriously. Conviction can come with hefty monetary penalties and long prison sentences. Even after these those who are convicted of these crimes serve their sentences, the social stigma of having a criminal conviction on record can make it difficult to pursue employment, housing and scholarship opportunities.

If you are facing these charges, contact an experienced drug offense lawyer. This legal professional will review the details of your case and build a defense to help better ensure a more favorable outcome.