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Synthetic Drugs Law: Will New Texas Law Succeed in Outlawing Spice, K2, and Other Synthetic Highs?

Here in Texas, law enforcement and the Texas Legislature are trying hard to keep up with the growing market for synthetic marijuana and designer drugs that are being sold all around the state in shops as well as online on legal web sites.

Synthetic marijuana, for example, is sold as an easy to get alternative to real cannabis and is often some type of leaves that are sprayed or coated with a chemical that will cause the user to experience a high similar to weed. There are also all sorts of designer drugs which market themselves as products that mimic the buzz of ecstasy or cocaine. In fact, shop around North Texas or go online and you’re likely to find a fake version of just about any drug out there.

If you look around, it’s pretty easy to spot slick, colorful packages of “incense” being sold here in Dallas and the North Texas area.


Synthetic Marijuana and Designer Drugs are Popular

Why are these products so popular? Well, first of all they are easy to find. You can shop for “herbal incense” and get yourself some synthetic marijuana pretty fast and cheap, should you choose to do so.

And, since this stuff isn’t made with real marijuana (or real cocaine, etc.) anyone concerned with drug testing by employers or probation officers doesn’t have to worry about testing positive in a urine test. Drug tests are made to test positive for real marijuana, not the fake stuff.

Also, these products are marketing to teenagers and young adults as fun and popular alternatives to the original drugs they mimic — and they’re promoted in places like dance clubs, concerts, and sporting events. Lots of this stuff is packaged and sold in ways that are slick and sophisticated. Some of this stuff is being bolstered by solid marketing strategies.

Federal Laws and State Laws on Synthetic Drugs Are Not the Same

We’ve discussed the fake pot and designer drug issue before — and how state law and federal law are not the same here. While many of these synthetic drugs and designer drugs are legal under state law, there are still federal laws in place that outlaw them.  You can be arrested under these federal laws if you’re caught in possession, custody, or control of synthetic marijuana or designer drugs even if there isn’t a Texas criminal law that applies to the product.

However, in the current legislative session, the Texas Legislature is hoping to change things and pass new criminal laws here in Texas that would make analogues to synthetics like K2, Spice, and other synthetic marijuana products as well as designer drugs like N-Bomb illegal here under state law as well.


N-Bomb is designer LSD and while it’s been illegal under federal law since 2013, it’s still a popular product in North Texas (and the rest of the nation, apparently). Recently, N-Bomb has been making news here in Dallas for being dangerous because people have been dying from using N-Bomb. See, “Second Collin teen’s death linked to designer drug,” in last month’s Dallas Morning News.

Texas Proposed Laws to Outlaw Synthetic Marijuana and Designer Drugs

The proposed legislation would expand the current provisions of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. Two bills have been okayed by unanimous vote in the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice that would make substances that make up these fake drugs illegal and would also increase the potential sentences for those found guilty of violating these new drug laws.

To read the text of these proposed laws, check out the information provided online by the Texas Legislature for SB172 and SB173.  (SB172 targets designer drugs while SB173 focuses upon synthetic marijuana.)

The key here is that the proposals don’t focus on specific drugs but instead upon chemical components. For instance, “K2” isn’t referenced in the proposed new state law. Instead, you will find language like this, which would change Section 481.106 of the Texas Health and Safety Code to read as follows:

Sec. 481.106. CLASSIFICATION OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE ANALOGUE. Provides that for the purposes of the prosecution of an offense under this subchapter involving the manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance, Penalty Groups 1, 1-A, 2, and 2-A include a controlled substance analogue that has a chemical structure substantially similar to the chemical structure of a controlled substance listed in the applicable penalty group, or is specifically designed to produce an effect substantially similar to, or greater than, a controlled substance listed in the applicable penalty group.

The proposed new Texas crime for possession of synthetic pot and the bill targeting designer drugs, if passed into law, will be a lot like the bath salts laws passed a couple of years back. That legislation regarding bath salts focused upon the chemical make-up instead of the product and law enforcement views the bath salts legislation as being successful. So, they’re using the same play book now for synthetic marijuana and designer drugs.

The Catch: Changing Recipes to Stay Ahead of the Law

The tricky thing here, of course, is the innovation that comes with these synthetic products. The pattern in the marketplace has been to alter the chemical composition of the synthetic drugs or designer drugs so the new “recipe” does not fall within the state criminal provisions. As laws have been passed to outlaw certain products, savvy manufacturers have changed their ingredients so that they fall outside the new criminal statutes but still provide the customer with a promised buzz.

Down in Austin, they’re hoping to pass these new laws that will outlaw the recipe ingredients themselves and stop the maneuvering in the synthetic marijuana market. Will this new law with its “analogue” language work?

There was a law passed here in Texas in 2011 that banned things that “mimic the pharmacological effect” of real marijuana or cannabis. It has not worked to stop the sale of “herbal incense” and other fake pot products here in Dallas or the rest of the state.

How is this happening? Well, most folk think this stuff is legal — both the shop owners and the buyers and most of the people on the street. Second, the chemical recipes are changed periodically to keep ahead of the statute language. Third, the products are clearly labeled “not for human consumption” which works to nod-nod—wink-wink them around the Texas Penal Code because they’re not being sold as drugs to be ingested by people.

One Big Question Here:  How Many Arrests Will Be Made for Synthetic Drugs In the Future

Bottom line, synthetic marijuana and designer drugs are a big moneymaker for lots of people. Manufacturers of these alternatives to the real thing are intelligent and educated not only on the laws but on chemistry, marketing, and general business methods. There are people out there willing to spend money on this stuff, and there are people out there wanting to sell them this stuff.

This new expansion of the Texas Controlled Substances Act may pass; probably will. In tandem, cities may work to get synthetic pot and designer drugs out of their neighborhoods with things like zoning laws or citywide ordinances that prohibit any synthetics from being sold in their jurisdiction regardless of chemical content.

It’s still going to take a lot of hard work to get these products out of the marketplace. Not only do these laws have to be passed so they become part of the Texas Penal Code.  Lots of arrests are going to have to be made and lots of law enforcement manpower will be needed to battle successfully against this popular market niche.

Will police begin targeting synthetic marijuana and designer drugs?

That’s a big question — after all, that big Synthetic Marijuana bust last year involving the Gas Pipe?  It all started from a traffic stop of a Ford pickup by a Denton County deputy sheriff — not from any police sting of the Gas Pipe shops; see, “Lessons of The Gas Pipe Bust: Traffic Stop Leads to Major Synthetic Marijuana Bust and Big Federal Forfeiture Grab.”


For more information check out these materials on our web site as well as Michael Lowe’s case results:

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