Federal synthetic-drug prosecution in the Eastern District of Virginia By "Timothy J. Quick" (11-6-2012)

Following their arrests in February 2012, three Portsmouth, Va., men were sentenced to prison in October 2012 for a synthetic-drug trafficking conspiracy in violation of federal law. The scheme involved a 66-year-old grandfather, his 18-year-old grandson and another young man of 24. According to WAVY.com and a press release from the United States Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, the three had ordered the synthetic drug methylone on the Internet from a Chinese lab and distributed the substance in the Portsmouth area while possessing guns.

Both federal law enforcement and the Portsmouth Police Department participated in the investigation of the three defendants, who imported 14.6 total kilograms of methylone. Their federal drug crime convictions and sentences are as follows:

  • The grandfather was convicted of conspiracy to import methylone and for possessing firearms while trafficking in illegal drugs and sentenced to 21 months imprisonment.
  • The grandson pled guilty to conspiracy to import a controlled substance and to carrying and possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, for which he will serve 84 months in total.
  • The third man pled guilty to the charge of conspiracy to import a controlled substance and was sentenced to 121 months in prison.

The designer drug methylone

According to the National Institutes of Health, methylone is one of the current "designer drugs" and is a "synthetic hallucinogenic amphetamine analog" similar to methamphetamine. The U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, issued a proposed rule on Oct. 17, 2012, that methylone be permanently made a Schedule I controlled substance. It was previously scheduled there on a temporary basis to "avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety."

The DEA will be accepting public comments on its proposal through mid-December 2012.

According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, the federal Controlled Substances Act, or CSA, places illegal controlled substances into five schedules based on the substances' "potential for abuse," addictive properties and medicinal use. Schedule I drugs have a "high potential for abuse," no "currently accepted medical use" in the U.S. and no safe use under "medical supervision."

Schedule I drugs may only be possessed or used according to strict government standards and controls, and anyone with a Schedule I drug in violation of federal law may be criminally liable.

The DEA writes that methylone showed up in the U.S. in 2009 as a legal "bath salt" or "plant food." The National Institutes of Health reports that it can also be found in liquid form called Explosion and in powder and tablet form in street drugs.

Methylone is abused - mostly by teenagers and younger adults, especially males - for its "psychoactive effects" and can cause high body temperature and sweating, panting, elevated heart rate, seizures, blood pressure changes, "erratic behavior," psychosis, hallucinations, aggression, and even coma and death. Methylone is not being used for medical purposes and cannot be legally prescribed.

Crimes involving Schedule I drugs have severe penalties that, depending on the circumstances, can include significant prison time and fines.

Legal assistance imperative

Federal and state authorities in Virginia are taking the epidemic of synthetic and designer drugs seriously, and anyone who suspects he or she is being investigated by law enforcement, or who faces charges, should consult with an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney to understand the potential consequences, and to begin to build a solid defense.