With Oklahoma district attorneys struggling to prosecute those who sell synthetic marijuana to the public, lawmakers are hoping a change in the state's drug laws will lead to more convictions.
Police raid head shops and convenience stores and haul off fake pot, but court records show that many store owners have avoided convictions because prosecutors cannot prove the substances are actually illegal.
In Illinois, lawmakers enacted a new law last year that targets shop owners who deal synthetic drugs. The state's new law, enacted in July 2012, makes it illegal for businesses and individuals to sell any product that contains controlled substances not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Oklahoma lawmakers' latest attempt to curtail synthetic drug sales — if enacted — will do much the same thing.
The new approach being proposed by members of the Legislature will create seven synthetic drug categories. If synthetic marijuana confiscated in a bust is tested and falls into one of those categories it can be used in prosecution, regardless of the specific chemical makeup.
Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, said his agency helped write the proposed law.
“In simple terms, does it react in the brain the way marijuana does?” Woodward said. “If it does, then that drug would technically be a synthetic drug.”
The old approach, which required the Legislature to add new substances to the list every session, created a time lag allowing producers to stay ahead of the law, Woodward said.
In the past 18 months, synthetic marijuana has been linked to several high-profile health scares in Oklahoma. Experts say the effects of the drug's long-term use aren't known because the synthetic marijuana is so new.
A little more than a year ago, a Mustang teenager was hospitalized after smoking a product called “Flame 2.0.” The 15-year-old boy, who complained of vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain, suffered kidney problems that required dialysis.
Sen. Corey Brooks, R-Washington, said he and Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, plan to introduce the legislation outlining the seven categories of drugs during the 2014 session.
Brooks said he's hopeful the proposed law will give prosecutors the tools they need to win cases.
Hard to prosecute
The push for new drug laws comes after prosecutors in Oklahoma expressed concerns about winning convictions against those caught selling synthetic drugs.
In Cleveland County, charges against at least three people arrested for selling synthetic marijuana to the public were dismissed after the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's drug lab could not confirm the presence of certain chemical compounds in products seized from two shops in Norman and Lexington.
Sales of fake pot can be lucrative.
“We've seen people make up to $1 million doing it in less than a year's time,” Woodward said.