New Utah Law Modifies the Utah Controlled Substances Act; Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Attorney Weighs In

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The 2011 Utah legislative session passed Utah House Bill 23, which revises the Utah Controlled Substances Act by adding certain substances in bath salts and synthetic cannabinoid substances found in products known as “spice,” and also clarifies other provisions of the Utah Controlled Substances Act. Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darren Levitt analyzes the effect of these changes and the possible penalties for a drug crime conviction in the state.

The modifications to Utah’s Controlled Substances Act will lead to increased arrests for serious drug offenses such as possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute, states Utah criminal defense lawyer Darren Levitt.

Utah legislators recently enacted H.B. 23, also known as the Controlled Substances Modifications bill, which added certain synthetic drugs to the list of banned substance under the Utah Controlled Substances Act in Title 58, Chapter 37 of the Utah Code. The bill bans the synthetic drug “spice” and certain bath salts, such as “Ivory Wave.” The new legislation also amends other provisions of the state’s controlled substances laws to clarify that tetrahydrocannabinols in Schedule I of the Utah Controlled Substances Act include those that are both naturally and synthetically derived.

According to Darren Levitt, an attorney for drug possession in Salt Lake City, “The modifications to Utah’s Controlled Substances Act will lead to increased arrests for serious drug offenses such as possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute, and even manufacturing of controlled substances.”

Under the Utah Controlled Substances Act, criminal charges for synthetic drugs, including bath salts and “spice,” can vary from class B misdemeanors to second degree felonies, depending on the acts allegedly committed. Penalties for a conviction can include fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and/or jail or prison sentences from less than six months to 15 years, depending on the offense, the type of drug, location of the offense, such as within a drug-free zone, if the offense involved a minor, and if the offender has any previous convictions. The new bill also adds “spice” to the driver’s license provisions regarding driving under the influence.

“Unfortunately, most of the individuals who experiment with these substances are young adults, juveniles, or people who may not be aware that “spice” and bath salts are now illegal. If charged and convicted with a serious drug offense, these individuals could face lasting negative effects for the rest of their lives,” warns the Salt Lake City juvenile defense attorney.

H.B. 23 specifically expands the listed controlled substances to include the synthetic cannabinoid substances that are found in the street drug “spice.” Spice is an herb that has been sprayed with chemicals that are similar to THC. The effects of spice are similar to those of marijuana, but can result in high heart rates, seizures, and other serious consequences not usually associated with natural cannabis.

The new bill also adds substances commonly referred to as bath salts among the list of controlled substances. Bath salts usually contain the synthetic matter, methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, or a substance like MDPV. These drugs produce a “high” comparable to cocaine or methamphetamines, and can have some of the same serious physical, cognitive, and psychoactive effects, including increased heart rate, severe hallucinations, paranoia, seizures, extreme violence and kidney failure.

“Granted, the bath salt and spice substances are probably used more for illegitimate purposes than anything else. But they are synthetic compounds, and a nearly-identical new strain not covered by the law can easily be created in a lab by way of only minor changes in the chemical structure of the compound,” states Darren Levitt. “Utah’s list of controlled substances will constantly have to be amended for every new slightly-modified compound that is created. The legislature attempted to prevent this by including chemical analogs and homologs of spice as within the purview of the new law, but only time will tell if that language will actually translate into decreased production and use.”

The Salt Lake City drug defense lawyer asserts, “As with any dangerous substance, the most effective way to get drugs off the streets and out of the hands of our young people is, in my opinion, to take away the profit motive surrounding their production and distribution. This is what the government does with alcohol and tobacco. But as long as spice and other substances remain illegal, the potential for lucrative profit remains, and clever people without any concern for the extreme risks to consumers of their product will find a way to exploit those margins.”

Utah’s Controlled Substances Act places drugs, substances, chemicals and medications into certain schedules, ranging from the substances with the most potential for abuse and no medicinal purpose in Schedule I, to drugs that have widely accepted medical uses and very little likelihood of abuse in Schedule V.

The recently enacted law expands the definition of tetrahydrocannabinols in Schedule I of the Utah Controlled Substances Act to include all tetrahydrocannabinols naturally found in the cannabis plant, as well as synthetic derivatives.

Additionally, the new law provides an affirmative defense against criminal charges for anyone who produces, possesses or administers any of the newly listed substances while they are engaged in medical research or they are licensed to possess the controlled substances for research.

The changes to the Utah Controlled Substances Act became effective at the beginning of July 2011.

Darren M. Levitt of Levitt Legal, PLLC is a criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City and represents clients throughout Salt lake County, Utah and the surrounding areas in Utah County, Davis County, Weber County, Tooele County, Summit County, Wasatch County, Box Elder County, Cache County and other Utah communities.


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