The Massachusetts legislature has recently adopted a definition of controlled substances that includes “controlled substance analogues,” or what is commonly known as “designer drugs.” The Massachusetts law is modeled on a similar Federal law that has already been put into place. This added definition would make criminalize analogues in the same way that the named controlled substances are criminalized, such as possession of the substance or distribution of the substance.
A controlled substance analogue is a substance that is similar in chemical structure and psychological effect to an existing controlled substance but has not yet been listed as a controlled substance. So in the statute, the analogues are not specifically listed by any name but are generally defined as a substance “substantially similar” to other controlled substances already listed.
The way the statute is written, a two-prong test is created for proving an analogue. First, the analogue (or “designer drug”) must be structurally similar to a controlled substance. “Structurally similar” essentially means that its chemistry must be very closely related. The second prong can be proven in one of two ways. One, the analogue causes a substantially similar or greater effect on the user as the named controlled substance. Or two, the analogue was represented to have or intended to have a similar effect on the user as the named controlled substance.
This addition to the controlled substance statute will cause a whole host of problems for police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and most importantly, defendants.
One problem is how do you prove that an analogue has a “structurally similar” makeup to a named controlled substance? (And a whole separate problem is what named controlled substance will the analogue be tested against since there are numerous possibilities?) This is obviously going to require an expert in chemistry to test how similar the alleged analogue and the named controlled substance are. This will be a time-consuming and costly process for both the government and defendants. The need for an expert puts defendants who cannot afford to pay in a highly disadvantaged position when up against a big government budget. Since there is no scientific definition for what “substantially similar” means, the case could come down to one expert’s opinion versus another expert’s opinion. What method of testing the expert(s) utilize is also a problematic area with no right or wrong answer right now.