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Synthetic drugs and narcotics laws

California residents may not know that the federal government places illegal drugs into one of three categories. Substances like marijuana that are not processed or refined prior to consumption are classified as natural drugs while substances such as cocaine or heroin that are processed before being distributed and sold are known as derivatives. However, a great deal of controversy surrounds a third category known as synthetics.

Synthetic drugs are usually formulated to skirt federal drug laws, and their makers frequently tinker with their formulas to stay one step ahead of the law. The government generally acts quickly to change its classifications and outlaw unregulated intoxicating substances, but synthetic drugs with street names including spice and bath salts are often offered for sale in retail stores during the time it takes for lawmakers to modify drug schedules and close loopholes.

The controversy surrounding synthetic drugs is focused mainly on the effects that they can have on those who consume them. Synthetic cathinones, which are also known as bath salts, are seen by drug users as a cheap alternative to stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, but the effects can be several times more powerful and lead those who take them to act in unpredictable and dangerous ways. Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 or spice have also become popular in recent years.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may argue fiercely that drug possession charges should be dropped when the substance involved was openly offered for sale in a retail store. Attorneys could also seek to have narcotics charges reduced when more conventional drugs are involved in situations where offenders do not have a record of prior criminal behavior and show genuine remorse. Prosecutors often juggle heavy caseloads, and they may welcome plea agreements even when they have compelling evidence at their disposal.

Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse, "DrugFacts--Synthetic Cathinones", January 2016

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