Texas Law that Took Effect Last Year Bans 1,000 Chemicals Potentially Used in Synthetic Marijuana

A variety of chemical compounds, collectively known as synthetic marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids, have grown in popularity in recent years, but they have also been linked to a wide range of harmful and even fatal effects. These substances mimic the effects of marijuana’s active component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Since marijuana remains illegal under federal law and in Texas, lawmakers have attempted to enact similar bans on synthetic marijuana compounds. New variants, however, are becoming available faster than lawmakers and regulators can ban them. The Texas Legislature passed a law in 2011 that added several types of synthetic marijuana to the state’s list of controlled substances, but it apparently proved to be too narrow. A 2015 law, which took effect in September of last year, vastly expands the list of controlled substances by as many as 1,000 compounds potentially used in synthetic marijuana production.

Synthetic marijuana has been available in various forms in Texas, both in illegal drug markets and in some retail stores with names like K2 and Spice. It is part of a larger class of drugs known as “novel psychoactive substances” (NPS), many of which are produced in Chinese laboratories and exported to markets in North America and Europe. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total number of known NPS compounds increased worldwide from 126 in 2009 to 450 in 2014. The number of synthetic cannabinoids rose from fewer than 50 to almost 200 in that time period. A rising number of overdoses reportedly related to NPS compounds has led to health alerts from multiple states. The Texas Poison Center has reportedly seen a significant increase in exposures, from 464 in 2013 to 782 the following year.

Lists of controlled substances are typically established by statute, with agencies like the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) authorized to make modifications through the administrative rulemaking process. Lawmakers are claiming, however, that these processes cannot keep up with the number and variety of NPS compounds available.

In May 2011, the Texas Legislature passed H.B. 2118, which amended Penalty Group 2 in the Texas Controlled Substances Act. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 481.001 et seq. It added several types of chemicals found in the synthetic drugs, known as “bath salts,” which are also associated with synthetic marijuana. About a month earlier, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that it was adding five substances used in synthetic marijuana to Schedule I of the state’s controlled substances list.

Four years after the passage of H.B. 2118, law enforcement reportedly claimed that drug manufacturers were able to evade the law by switching to different chemical components. The Legislature passed S.B. 172 in May 2015. According to the Texas Tribune, the law uses a three-component model to establish a far broader group of prohibited substances. Substances with components from each of three lists associated with synthetic marijuana—“Group A components,” “Core components,” and “Link components”—are added to the state’s controlled substances list. The number of compounds in the three lists reportedly allow for as many as 1,000 potential combinations, any of which could potentially be part of a synthetic marijuana product.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified drug crimes attorney Michael J. Brown has more than 20 years’ experience representing defendants against state and federal criminal charges in west Texas courts. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Texas Becomes (Very Slightly) More Accepting of Marijuana, While the White House Commutes Sentences of Nearly Fifty Non-Violent Drug Offenders, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 30, 2015

Federal Authorities Charge Texas Retail Chain Owner in Connection with Synthetic Marijuana Investigation, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 17, 2015

Synthetic Marijuana: A Bigger Threat Than Ordinary Marijuana? Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, February 24, 2012


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