Synthetic marijuana prosecutions get mixed results due to legal complications

Over about four years, federal agents arrested hundreds of people and seized their assets in a major multiphase crackdown on synthetic marijuana products known as K2 and spice that transformed some users into zombie-like states or outright killed them.

But a significant number of those drug trafficking cases have fallen apart, including one of the biggest — against the owners of the Gas Pipe retail chain in North Texas.

The reason: K2 and spice are “drug analogues” — close relatives of traditional illegal drugs that give users a high but aren’t specifically prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. Federal prosecutors say they’re illegal, but must show in court that a defendant knew the substance they sold was “substantially similar” to a controlled substance in both chemical structure and physiological effect to get a conviction.

A slew of cases were filed from 2012 to 2015 using the Reagan-era drug statute known as the Analogue Act. But defense attorneys nationwide have hired armies of chemistry professors who wrote reports and testified that the chemicals in question were not analogues. In the Gas Pipe case and others, federal juries have voted to acquit on drug trafficking counts.

James Felman, a Tampa, Fla., attorney who helped defend the Gas Pipe and similar cases, said the Gas Pipe was the only spice case he worked on that even made it to trial due to…

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Over about four years, federal agents arrested hundreds of people and seized their assets in a major multiphase crackdown on synthetic marijuana products known as K2 and spice that transformed some users into zombie-like states or outright killed them.

But a significant number of those drug trafficking cases have fallen apart, including one of the biggest — against the owners of the Gas Pipe retail chain in North Texas.

The reason: K2 and spice are “drug analogues” — close relatives of traditional illegal drugs that give users a high but aren’t specifically prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. Federal prosecutors say they’re illegal, but must show in court that a defendant knew the substance they sold was “substantially similar” to a controlled substance in both chemical structure and physiological effect to get a conviction.

A slew of cases were filed from 2012 to 2015 using the Reagan-era drug statute known as the Analogue Act. But defense attorneys nationwide have hired armies of chemistry professors who wrote reports and testified that the chemicals in question were not analogues. In the Gas Pipe case and others, federal juries have voted to acquit on drug trafficking counts.

James Felman, a Tampa, Fla., attorney who helped defend the Gas Pipe and similar cases, said the Gas Pipe was the only spice case he worked on that even made it to trial due to…

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