Authorities Find Virginia's New Synthetic Marijuana Law Hard to Enforce

In March 2011, Virginia Governor Bob McDonald signed a law criminalizing the possession and sale of synthetic marijuana, joining at least 15 other states in banning the man-made drugs that go by brand names like Spice and K2. The drugs consist of chemicals that manufacturers spray onto herbs, spices or other substances that people can smoke. These synthetic drugs mimic the effects of THC, the intoxicating chemical found in marijuana plants.

Virginia legislators worded the synthetic-marijuana ban broadly to take as many of these drugs off the streets as possible, and they instituted severe penalties for synthetic marijuana possession and distribution. However, the broad language is causing authorities difficulty in convicting people under the new law.

Understanding the Synthetic Marijuana Law

Virginia legislators knew the problems other states were having with synthetic-marijuana laws and sought to avoid them. Because other states banned specific chemicals, for example, drug manufacturers would come up with new chemicals that are not specifically banned to make the drugs. So, Virginia lawmakers not only banned specific chemical compounds, but they also included a catch-all provision outlawing other substances that drug manufacturers may use to circumvent the ban.

Difficulty Enforcing the Ban

Despite their attempts otherwise, authorities are still having trouble convicting people of possession and distribution of the prohibited substances under the new law. If police seize what they believe is synthetic marijuana and a lab analysis shows a chemical that is not one of the specific substances banned, the law requires someone from the lab that did the testing to go to court and testify that the substance is similar to the banned chemicals and has the same effects on the human body.

In addition to the logistical challenges of lab workers providing testimony in synthetic marijuana cases, state forensic lab officials cannot even do what the law requires of them yet. Since the synthetic marijuana chemicals are new and not widely known, lab workers do not have any comparison samples for the banned chemicals. Consequently, prosecutors cannot prove their cases.

If you are facing drug charges, contact an experienced attorney who can help you fight the charges.