Retailers are Criminally Liable for Synthetic Drugs


As most members of the public have heard by now, there are new drugs on the market. These drugs are giving law makers a fit as they try and pass laws to regulate them, and business owners are caught in the mix. Whether it be bath salts, mimicking methamphetamine and cocaine, or synthetic marijuana. Other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana are much easier to regulate because their chemical composition stays relatively the same all the time and are readily identifiable. Another factor that makes these easier to regulate is the fact that they have not been completely legal in this country for many decades. All gas station, convenience store, and smoke shop owners know where the line is with the regular drugs, they are illegal and cannot be sold. But synthetic drugs fall somewhere in a grey area, leaving upstanding business owners uncertain what products they can legally sell and what products could get them a felony charge and have their business "padlocked".

Just a few years ago synthetic marijuana and bath salts were completely legal here in Tennessee. In fact both could be bought at local gas stations and smoke shops throughout the state of Tennessee. Tennessee and Federal law makers have begun to regulate these substances. Such action has proven difficult. The laws that have been passed these past few years have proven difficult to enforce. Law enforcement officers throughout the state are discovering that the makers of these drugs are capable of tweaking the chemical makeup of their drugs just enough so that the substance they produce are not on the list of synthetic substances which are illegal. In fact, these substances are so easy to make, there are simple YouTube videos which show those with even a meager high school level science background, how to make the drug. Now retailers must be able to identify them to avoid criminal prosecution.

At the urge of East Tennessee citizens, law makers in Nashville have passed three new laws aimed at regulating synthetic drugs. On July 1 of this year House Bills 2218, 2286, and 2645 took effect

First, under new laws, the list of banned chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs has increased. The hope is that with the new more exhaustive list, it will become more difficult for drug makers to change their receipt to avoid breaking the law. Second, under these new laws it is a Class A Misdemeanor to possess any of the banned substances for personal use. Lastly, it is now a Class E felony to produce, manufacture, distribute, sell or offer a synthetic drug to someone, which is a big change from what used to be only a class A misdemeanor. The three new laws will be codified in Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-452 through 30-17-452.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper recently commented on the new laws, which many believe place small business owners at risk of criminal charges should they sell a product that falls within a grey area, or is similar to the products listed in the new law but not the same. General Cooper recently stated "retailers have a responsibility to exmine the products on their shelves and not to take the word of distributors that products are 'totally legal' or 'not prohibited by the DEA.' As a matter of fact, these kinds of claims should raise red flags that there is something suspect about the product. The same is true if the product comes with an unusually wide profit margin. After all, a few grams of real bath salts or a couple of ounces of energy drink should never cost $15 dollars or more." Unfortunately, the position that General Cooper and the State of Tennessee are making leaves retailers and small business owners vulnerable. Now business owners, and patrons, most of which are not chemists, are responsible for deciding if a product falls within the banned substance list. Or else they risk as General Cooper put it "these…drugs [being] removed from the shelves, businesses padlocked, and the owners or employees subject to prosecution." The question is, what are retailers to do when it is not readily apparent to them that the product they are selling may be illegal?

For more information about Tennessee synthetic drug laws, or to discuss any criminal charges related to the synthetic drug laws that you or your family may be facing, please feel free to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Bowlin Law Firm today.