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Operation Log Jam finds a wood chipper

September 11, 2012

2. Law, 5. Pre-Trial, 6. Trial

Someone find me a case out of the hundreds if not thousands that came out of Operation Log Jam that will go to trial on the science – the chemistry – of Synthetic Cannabinoids.  It isn’t happening.  Not one.  Why not?  The strong arm of the government is belligerently in the face of small businesses threatening decades in prison replete with same-sex escapades or a simple, easy extortion of assets.  Who wouldn’t take the deal?  We can make more money … it’s hard to get your dignity back or that taste out of your mouth.

But there’s a broader method to the madness.  Follow me here …

Grab any list of banned SCs – federal, your state, some other state.  The classic JWH-018 is there.  The feds and lots of states have AM-2201 on the list.  A couple of states have UR-144 – silly, but we’ll get to that later.  The problem, of course, is that it’s practically impossible to list every SC with a CB1 affinity.  So the brilliant legislatures use the term “analogue” (sometimes spelled “analog”).

What is an analogue?  Sometimes the term is defined in the statute; sometimes just the bare word is used without explanation.  Both pose problems.  Ask an organic chemist what it is and the answer will usually center on the structure of the compound.  We can get all 3-D here, but let’s stick with the simple versions – 2-D for now.

The image to the left is the 2-D image of JWH-018, considered the Mother of Synthetic Cannabinoids.  Dr. John W. Huffman created it in legitimate research to recreate delta-9-THC, the active ingredient in weed.  If created in synthetic form, so the story goes, we can off the CB1 agonist portions – so people won’t get high – but retain the CB2 (and unknown to him at the time, the putative GPR55 (CB3 to stoners)) agonist portions.  The result would be all the health benefits of weed with none of the fun.  Sounds like a plan.  Well, the rest is history.

So the feds get cranky, schedule JWH-018, and use this beast called the Federal Analogue Act to include what an organic chemist might call “substantially similar” compounds.  Some states followed suit with the term analogue employed as discussed above.  The industry shifted to AM-2201, pictured left.  Looks kinda similar to JWH-018, eh?  The only difference is that flourene group stuck on the end of the pentyl leg – the carbon backbone is identical.  But herein lies the first problem:  we’re using 2-D images.  The 3-D image would indicate quite a bit of difference, but I don’t have those handy.  Still, is AM-2201 an “analogue” of JWH-018?  The relatively small change has everyone agreeing that it is an analogue, but but but …

Let’s take the Federal Analogue Act as a guide.  There’s three legs to determine:  Structural analogue; functional analogue; and intended for human consumption.  Ignore the third leg – too open to change by the landscape of the sale.  The first two legs are scientific inquiries lending themselves to being proven or disproven.

What is a structural analogue?  Good question!  You just went a long way in establishing reasonable doubt.  Some states look for a “common carbon backbone.”  Others use the “substantially similar” approach.  One state allows the scientifically insulting “overlay of 2-D images” approach.  Do me a favor – compare the 2-D images of an orange and a frisbee.  Why the wide variations?  Because the state of the science is not settled on even this basic question.  Let’s presume for sake of argument that we can get past this question.

What is a functional analogue?  Well, it has the same or similar effect on the human body as something that is a scheduled substance.  Fair enough.  Let’s start at the beginning with JWH-018.  It has a CB1 K(i) binding value of 9.0.  What does that mean, pray tell?  Well, in a laboratory, these people put some cells that exhibit CB1 properties in a petri dish, add a bit of JWH-018, and wait for a bit.  When you’re done, wash away the excess compound.  What is kinda sorta stuck to the cells is that amount which has bound itself to the CB1 receptor.  Whip out your Texas Instruments Scientific Calculator and do the simple division … 9.0!  (The calc is actually an inversion, so the lower the K(i), the higher the binding factor.)

Great story, you say.  I can hear you.  But what does a K(i) value have to do with being an agonist to a cannabinoid receptor?  Just because it binds to the receptor does not mean that it enters the receptor!  What’s the measurement of the agonist properties – once it enters?  Oh! Oh! Oh!  See that?  It’s the prosecutor running for the door!  Get him!

And therein lies the issue.  You see, there are no studies – animal or human – on SCs.  None.  What is the impact on the human body as determined by science?  Dunno.  End of story.  Binding does not mean entering.

But, what about all those Emergency Room visits?  Self reported; uncontrolled.  Assume Little Johnny takes ten tabs of acid and does one bowl of “legal weed.”  He starts to misbehave.  Winds up strapped to a gurney staring at the ceiling.  “What did you take?” the doctor asks.  Little Johnny, feeling nourished after chewing his fingers down to the first knuckle, ponders the question:  “Tell him the illegal shit I did or the legal stuff?”  Not a difficult choice.  “I smoked this incense stuff!  I’m sorry!  Don’t tell my mom!”  The doctor dutifully makes notes in his chart.

That, shockingly, is the state of science on the impact of SCs on the human body.  Not admissible in court.

So, if the specific chemical compound isn’t listed in the law then the prosecution has a problem – structural analogue is an undefined concept; functional analogue has zero science.  Bottom line?  The prosecution cannot win in court.

So they commit semi-legalized extortion to get verdicts.

I did say that I’d get to UR-144.  Well, I can’t.  Not yet, at least fully.  Accept this brief statement … when you strip down UR-144 and JWH-018 (and AM-2201) to where they are common, the remaining structure is also common with thousands of compounds 0 99.99% of which are not controlled and never will be. So trust me on this:  If the prosecution has a chance of winning one of the above cases that approaches or achieves zero, then the chance of even getting a UR-144 to trial is measured in Kelvin …

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

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