Cases concerning synthetic drug use are causing confusion among court justices. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, producers of synthetic drugs create their products based on their stronger counterparts such as marijuana and cocaine. However, while synthetic drugs mimic the effects of other drugs, manufacturers can alter the chemical make-up to avoid prosecution.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is in the process of conducting a two-year study on synthetic drugs in order to update the drug quantity table that judges use in when dealing with sentences involving synthetic drug use. In drug cases, judges consult the table in order to have a starting point as a basis for the sentence depending on the amount of drugs that are involved in the case. Afterwards, they factor in other aspects like such as criminal history, level of responsibility, and the like, according to a news item.
While this method may be easier for cases involving heroin, cocaine, and marijuana – all of which are permanent substances listed on the table – synthetic drugs pose a greater challenge, as they are not listed on the table. In cases where synthetic drugs are involved, judges consult the table and try to match the synthetic drug to the most similar drug on the table based on components such as chemical make-up and pharmacological effects. They then use the information to calculate a quantity that is equivalent to marijuana, cocaine, or heroin in order to have a basis for offense.
However, the calculations can cause confusion and delay the process. Judges struggle with the formulas and sometimes see no basis with the ratios given to them by chemistry experts. There is a move to reassess the table in order to properly deal with synthetic drug cases in the future.