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Texas amended the Texas Controlled Substances Act in 2011 by creating a new penalty group that includes “any quantity of a synthetic chemical compound that is a cannabinoid receptor agonist and mimics the pharmacological effect of naturally occurring cannabinoids.” While that law is broadly written, it is not a crime to deliver or possess a drug listed in Penalty Group 2-A unless that drug is a controlled substance.
A controlled substance is defined as any drug included in the Texas Controlled Substances Schedules and any drug listed in “Penalty Group 1, 1-A, or 2 through 4.” Whether Penalty Group 2-A, which did not exist when the definition was written, is included in that definition of “controlled substance” is unclear.
The Texas Controlled Substances Schedules include “any substance that is a cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1 receptor) agonist as demonstrated by binding studies and functional assays” with specified structural classes.
That language is narrower than (and arguably in conflict with) the language in Penalty Group 2-A. The narrower “controlled substance” definition of synthetic cannabinoids might provide a defense to a delivery or possession charge unless the specific drug that was possessed or delivered has been added to the Texas Controlled Substances Schedules.
The State of Texas (usually following the lead of the DEA) regularly adds newly developed synthetic cannabinoids to its list of Schedule I controlled substances, but it takes some time for that to occur.
Synthetic cannabinoids are functionally similar to THC, the active chemical ingredient in marijuana. In technical language, a “synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonist” binds with cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce an effect (or “high”) that is similar to the effect caused by ingesting (smoking) marijuana.
Originally developed by researchers seeking a medication for pain relief that would mimic the benefits of THC, the drug has not been approved for medical use because it produces a more potent “high” than marijuana.
Synthetic cannabinoids that are sold for recreational purposes are usually adhered to dried vegetable matter, making it possible for the user to smoke the substance in the same way that marijuana fumes are inhaled. A number of different synthetic cannabinoids have been developed. Sometimes different synthetic cannabinoids are combined in the same commercial product, perhaps in the hope of confounding forensic analysis of the drug.
According to the DEA, synthetic cannabinoids began to be marketed for recreational purposes in the United States near the end of 2008. They are sold under hundreds of different names, including Spice, K2, Blaze, Yucatan Fire, Red X Dawn, Paradise, Skunk, and Moon Rocks. As new versions are developed, new street names are likely to accompany them.
While Spice and similar substances are available for purchase on the internet and, for a period of time, could be found in head shops and truck stops, the active chemicals most frequently found in Spice have been designated as a Schedule I controlled substance by the State of Texas and the United States government.
Manufacturers, usually based in Asia, continually work to circumvent that designation by designing new chemical compounds that achieve the same results. In turn, the federal and Texas governments are continually updating their controlled substance schedules to include newly developed synthetic cannabinoids.
Synthetic Cannabinoids Penalties
All offenses in Texas involving the delivery, possession with intent to deliver, or manufacturing of synthetic cannabinoids, regardless of quantity, are classified as felonies. Possession offenses can be either misdemeanors or felonies depending upon the amount of the drug involved in the crime.
Synthetic cannabinoids are included in Penalty Group 2-A of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. Consult our Penalty Group 2-A article to lean about the penalties that apply to delivery, possession with intent to deliver, manufacturing, or possession of synthetic cannabinoids.