The federal government announced another victory in its war on drugs, as federal authorities made raids in 109 cities nationwide -- including five Arizona cities -- to take down an industry that sells chemicals "similar" to illegal drugs.
Yes, the word "similar" comes straight from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The substances involved are the synthetic chemicals known as "bath salts" and "spice," which don't have consistent formulas. When certain chemicals are banned, the producers usually change up the formula ever so slightly to keep it legal.
The DEA readily admits in a statement that "many of the designer drugs being marketed today that were seized as part of Operation Log Jam are not specifically prohibited in the Controlled Substances Act."
However, more than 90 people were arrested and more than 5 million packets of these chemicals were seized, along with $36 million in cash.
What gives? Well, thanks to President Nixon and friends, the Controlled Substances Act contains a section called the Federal Analog Act, in which the feds can treat any chemical that's "substantially similar" to an illegal drug as if it actually were that drug.
It does not apply to drugs that are "not intended for human consumption." If you've ever seen a package of "spice" or "bath salts," it likely says just that -- it's not intended for human consumption -- right on the label.
Not only that, but the DEA itself says in its statement that "[t]hese products . . . have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human consumption or for medical use, and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process."
Courts also have ruled that the "substantially similar" part of the law isn't exactly perfect, either, although it has worked in the feds' favor before.
A DEA spokeswoman did not immediately return New Times' call for comment.
South Florida lawyer Thomas Wright -- who specializes in "spice"-related cases -- already has told our sister paper in Broward County, Florida, that he has a few questions about what's going on with the DEA's raids and says it seems the agency's "going a little backwards on us."
"The DEA is taking the position that these guys are drug dealers," Wright tells New Times Broward-Palm Beach. "I've never heard of guys establishing corporations for cocaine. These guys are in plain sight and sell their stuff to gas stations and corner stores. Nobody goes to Exxon for an eight-ball."
Wright's described to us some of the intricacies in the drug laws, which you can read in this post.
As for what's going on in Arizona, we're still trying to get the details from the DEA. the Arizona Republic is reporting that 17 search warrants were served in the Phoenix area in relation to the DEA's operation.
For now, the feds are announcing some sort of major victory.
"Today, we struck a huge blow to the synthetic-drug industry. The criminal organizations behind the importation, distribution, and selling of these synthetic drugs have scant regard for human life in their reckless pursuit of illicit profits," Immigration and Customs Enforcement higher-up James Chaparro says in a statement. "ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring this industry to its knees."
Stay tuned for updates.