Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney Bill Roelke Discusses Criminal Liability of Synthetic Drug Sellers and Manufacturers

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Although Florida’s lawmakers have recently added many types of new synthetic products in the state’s list of banned substances, including fake marijuana and fake cocaine, some manufacturers and sellers of these substances have been largely able to avoid criminal prosecution. Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer Bill Roelke examines the ban on these substances and his expectation that prosecution under the new law will soon increase.

Unfortunately, because the law was only recently changed, many store owners are not necessarily aware that selling imitation drugs exposes them to serious criminal charges in Florida, stated Bill Roelke, a Jacksonville drug defense lawyer.

Many individuals who manufacture or sell synthetic marijuana and cocaine have been able to skirt criminal penalties, even though numerous chemicals typically found in these substances have recently been added to the list of banned substances in the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act effective June 1, 2011. Bill Roelke, a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, analyzes the drug charges and penalties these individuals could possibly face.

According to an article published November 7, 2011 in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, individuals who own convenience stores or smoke shops often sell substances that consumers are abusing or using as drugs, such as herbal incense or bath salts. There have been more than 149 overdoses and at least one death in Florida connected to bath salts, which mimic some effects of cocaine. Another 374 overdoses, including two deaths, have been attributed to fake marijuana in the state.

“Unfortunately, because the law was only recently changed, many store owners are not necessarily aware that selling imitation drugs exposes them to the serious criminal charges of drug manufacturing, drug trafficking or drug possession with intent to sell in Florida,” stated Bill Roelke, a Jacksonville drug defense lawyer.

As reported in the Sun Sentinel article, many store owners selling these types of substances have not been charged with criminal drug offenses because law enforcement officers are unable to determine whether a substance is a legal or banned substance without testing it first.

Many of these man-made drugs have several chemical variations and cannot be tested immediately due to the lack of a drug testing kit able to detect the wide range of synthetic substances. For example, Mr. Nice Guy, a type of synthetic marijuana, has several hundred different variations. Not all of these versions have been banned yet, although they produce the same hallucinogenic effect.

Synthetic substances often need to be sent to a law enforcement laboratory to be tested. This process generally takes longer and costs more to complete an accurate analysis. Additionally, the test results are usually not sufficient evidence to make an arrest. Many of the substances turn out to be legal or the test results are inconclusive.

Some of the substances that have recently been added to the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act include K2 and Spice, or synthetic marijuana or weed, and bath salts, or synthetic cocaine or methamphetamine.

Many store owners and individuals selling banned fake drugs have avoided prosecution. However, two convenience stores in Jacksonville were involved in a million dollar synthetic drug bust in September, resulting in drug trafficking charges for the participants.

According to Roelke, an attorney representing individuals charged with drug possession with intent to sell in Jacksonville, “Any store owners selling banned imitation drugs in Florida can face severe penalties. For example, possession with intent to sell fake marijuana or fake cocaine is a felony of the third degree, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.”

Individuals arrested for drug crimes in Florida could also be charged with a federal offense. However, there have yet to be any arrests by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for synthetic drugs in Florida.

Prior to June 1, 2011 Florida law did not prohibit the sale of imitation recreational drugs. Roelke notes, “Because the law banning the sale of fake cocaine and marijuana is relatively new and many store owners were not aware of the change in the law, there has been a lag in arrests and prosecutions under the new law. However, due to the serious health threat to Florida teens and young adults presented by these drugs, the fact that the law has now been in effect for almost six months and recent improvements in field testing by law enforcement, I expect we’ll see a marked increase in prosecutions of manufacturers and sellers of synthetic drugs in Florida.”

Bill Roelke of Roelke Law is a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville who represents individuals charged with criminal offenses throughout Northeast Florida, including the surrounding areas of Duval County, St. Johns County, Clay County, Nassau County, Jacksonville Beach, St. Augustine, Orange Park, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, Baldwin and Fernandina Beach.

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