On February 25, 2011 Gov. Gary Herbert signed H.B. 23 into law, which made several modifications the state’s Controlled Substances Act. The amendments added synthetic drugs known as “spice” and “bath salts” to the schedule of controlled substances and amends the Act’s definition of tetrahydrocannabinols to note that it includes both natural and synthetic derivatives of the chemical. Some predict that the change in the law will result in many more arrests for drug crimes such as possession, and possession with the intent to distribute and trafficking, so it is important for people to understand what substances the Act includes.
Utah lawmakers were motivated to amend the Controlled Substances Act because the state had seen a dramatic rise in people using new designer drugs called bath salts, which contain the chemical methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also called MDPV. MDPV has an effect on the human body similar to that of cocaine and methamphetamines and can cause hallucinations, increased heart rate, extreme paranoia, increased violence, seizures and kidney failure in those who use them.
Utah authorities had also become aware of a growing number of people using a drug called spice, which is a weed that people have sprayed with a synthetic derivative of the THC naturally found in marijuana. However, spice has side effects not normally associated with marijuana use, such as rapid heart rate, seizures, hallucinations, nausea and dependency on the chemical.
Harsh Penalties for Possession of Spice, Synthetic Drugs Under New Law
There are a wide range of penalties for violating the Controlled Substances Act, depending on the circumstances of the offense. The offenses range from class B misdemeanors to second degree felonies. Those convicted of drug offenses face potential jail time from six months up to 15 years, based on such factors such as the specific offense, the drug involved, the amount of the drug involved, whether the offense occurred in a drug-free school zone, whether a minor was involved in the offense and whether the defendant has a prior criminal record. Additionally, the court may impose criminal fines on those convicted of drug offenses ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
The new amendments to the law also specifically include spice and bath salts in Utah’s Driving Under the Influence laws. Anyone convicted of driving while under the influence of these drugs faces up to 48 hours in jail, 48 hours of work service or house arrest in addition to a $700 fine and the loss of his or her driver’s license for four months for a first offense.
By amending the Controlled Substances Act, Utah authorities have signaled that they are serious about prosecuting drug offenses. Utah drug crimes attorneys say that the penalties for a drug conviction can be grave and cannot stress enough how important it is for individuals to know what substances are now illegal so they do not unwittingly open themselves up to criminal charges.