Chicago Cracks Down on Retailers Selling Synthetic Drugs

Chicago was the first large city in the country to punish retailers that sell synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana and other illegal drugs. Commonly disguised as bath salts, incense or potpourri, these synthetic drugs are often changed chemically to make them legal but still provide users with intoxicating effects. However, the side effects of the drug can be severe; they can cause hallucinations, seizures, paranoid behavior and high blood pressure. In some cases they can cause violent episodes or cause users to go "out of their minds" Cara Smith, who has been working with the Illinois Attorney General's Office on the crackdown, told the Northwest Indiana Times.

Illinois has banned several forms of synthetic marijuana and bath salts for several years, but in an effort to get around these laws the manufacturer would simply replace the strain of a banned synthetic drug with a newer version that was not yet on the market.

In response, both Chicago and Illinois passed laws that banned all structural derivatives of synthetic marijuana. The city ordinance amended the Municipal Code of Chicago to include Section 4-4-333. This new law took effect on December 24, 2011, and banned the selling of synthetic marijuana "whether described as tobacco, potpourri, herbs, incense, spice, aromatic, or any combination thereof" and specifically named a number of derivative hallucinogenic substances of synthetic marijuana that are now also illegal to sell in the city. Every day that a business sells synthetic marijuana in the city is considered a separate offense, so Chicago fines the business between $500 and $1000 each day.

The state law went into effect a week after Chicago's ordinance did. The state law places synthetic drugs into two large categories:

  • Cannabinoids, such as K2 and Spice, that mimic the effects of marijuana
  • Cathinone, or "bath salts" that mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine

Distributing illegal synthetic drugs such as K2 and Spice is a drug crime and may result in a felony charge to the distributor.

Synthetic Drug Use on the Rise

Synthetic drug use nationwide has increased dramatically in the last several years, especially among teens and young adults. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, centers nationwide reported 5,600 instances of bath salt abuse. Synthetic marijuana use is also on the rise, with 2,900 calls from around the country in 2010 and 5,700 in 2011.

Enforcement Also Increasing

On April 30, police confiscated $30,200 of illegal synthetic drugs in two DeKalb, Illinois retailers. The raid was part of "Operation Smoked Out," a statewide initiative headed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, reported the Rock River Times. Law enforcement officials obtained 1,941 packages of synthetic drugs in the raid.

With authorities in Chicago and statewide officials intent on punishing retailers who sell synthetic drugs, convenience stores, smoke shops and other common sellers of the drugs may face stiff penalties for distribution. If you have been charged with selling synthetic drugs, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend your rights in court.