As of October 1, 2013, Maryland Senate Bill 109, signed into law by the governor, makes it illegal to use, sell, or possess some widely available and previously legal substances. The substances that are the subjects of this new Maryland drug law include the active ingredients in synthetic smoking blends such as K2 and Spice as well as the active ingredients in bath salts with names like Ivory Wave and Blizzard. These products were previously sold openly in gas stations and smoke shops, and were available through the mail on numerous Internet sites. The popularity of these substances has seemingly been on the rise for the past decade.
Synthetic Marijuana and Bath Salts Law Enforcement
Prior to the state enacting legislation, a handful of Maryland counties had passed their own laws banning synthetic marijuana and bath salts. These laws were not identical. Because local prohibitions varied substantially from place to place, the legal status of synthetic marijuana and bath salts has been difficult for Maryland consumers to ascertain. Until now, Marylanders have been getting mixed messages about what was and what wasn’t illegal to possess.
Adding to this confusion, federal law has not been clear on synthetic marijuana and bath salts. While the federal government attempted to address the issue of new designer drugs decades ago with the 1986 Analog Enforcement Act, a law that made it a crime for people to possess or sell drugs that mimicked the intoxicating effects of commonly known, scheduled drugs like cocaine, heroin, and LSD, that law proved too difficult for police and prosecutors to use in most cases. Successful prosecution under the Analog Act required federal prosecutors to overcome tremendous evidentiary hurdles, hence cases were often abandoned and the law was often not enforced. In 2012, Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act scheduled 26 popular chemical compounds used in designer drugs in an effort to make enforcement and prosecution easier. Nonetheless, federal prosecutors mostly have not brought cases for low-level possession of synthetic marijuana and bath salts. Instead, federal prosecutors have primarily targeted large-scale manufacturers and distributors of illegal chemical compounds.
This inconsistent and often non-existent enforcement has contributed to confusion concerning the legal status of synthetic marijuana and bath salts. Despite the changes to the federal law in 2012, open sales of synthetic marijuana and bath salts went undisturbed in many places. As a result, many consumers of these substances have remained in the dark concerning the legal status of the products in their possession.
With a new state law becoming active in October 2013, Maryland joins at least 40 other states in making large numbers of the active ingredients in synthetic marijuana and bath salts illegal.
What Exactly is Does the New Maryland Law Prohibit?
The new Maryland law makes it illegal to possess or sell cannabimimetic agents. Generally speaking, these are compounds that mimic the effects of the active ingredients in marijuana, namely tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the other psychoactive compounds commonly referred to as cannabinoids. The law lists a number of common cannabimimetic compounds and other popular research chemicals. These are active ingredients in some of the more widely available types of bath salts. These chemical compounds are now listed as belonging to Schedule 1. Of note, the new Maryland law specifically criminalizes 1–methyl–4–phenyl–4–propionoxypiperidine (MPPP), 3, 4–methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and methedrone, among other, similar compounds.
Future Synthetic Marijuana and Bath Salts Law Enforcement
At the time this post was authored, it is unclear how the new law will be enforced. In the past, the jumble of local laws and largely unused federal prohibitions appeared to have confused enforcement efforts at the lowest level. Based on anecdotal reports, many local police officers, upon discovering commercially packaged, apparently non-marijuana smoking blends, bath salts, and similar items often did not file charges, even though the substances may have been illegal as analog drugs. In some cases, persons found to be in possession of synthetic a designer substance were incorrectly charged with possessing one of the commonly known scheduled drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. Often these cases unraveled when local police labs discovered that the substances recovered did not yield positive results for any of the most common illegal drugs. The new law going into effect in October 2013 scheduling many of the active ingredients synthetic marijuana and bath salts law will likely signal a major change in enforcement. It seems logical that Maryland police and prosecutors will operate under a general assumption that everything packaged as a smoking blend or bath salts now contains a controlled dangerous substance.
Likely Problems with Enforcing the New Law
Designer drugs are created specifically to get around existing drug laws. As the federal government and states like Maryland enact new prohibitions, it seems likely that the drug chemists will continue their efforts to produce new drugs designed to escape regulation. This means that new smoking blends and bath salts are likely on their way to market right now. It should be expected that these new products will look like, smell like, and be packaged in a manner similar to now-illegal products such as K2, Spice, Ivory Wave, and Blizzard. This will almost certainly confuse law enforcement, prosecutors, and consumers alike. Adding to this confusion, compounds will remain available for sale in other states that are now illegal in Maryland. Because state borders are porous and not subject to import and export controls, it follows that someone coming to Maryland with one of the newly scheduled compounds may not be aware that he or she is violating a state law that could potentially send him to jail.
If you or someone you know has been charged with possessing synthetic marijuana or bath salts in Maryland, you are invited to call attorney Matthew Baum for a free consultation. All consultations are confidential and private. Matthew Baum is a criminal defense lawyer with offices in Baltimore and Columbia, Maryland. Those offices can be reached by calling (410) 929-3435.