Should There Be a Scienter Requirement for Designer Drugs?

Author: Chris Gant, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Advancements in chemistry and technology have lead to unprecedented innovation in the drug market. Some criminal-minded people have circumvented federal drug laws by creating so-called “designer drugs” like bath salts. The law’s treatment of those manufacturing and distributing designer drugs has led to a contentious circuit split. The split hinges on whether the government must prove that these “underground chemists” knew that they were dealing drugs analogous[1] to controlled substances in order to be convicted of a crime. The courts have interpreted the statute differently as to the scienter requirement applied to analogue substances. Of the circuits that have decided this issue, the majority, led by the Seventh Circuit, has concluded that the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew of the similarities between the controlled substance and the analogue. The minority, in contrast, has determined that the government only needs to prove that the substance was intended for human consumption. Given the plain language of the statute, the majority’s stance is the more reasonable, logical approach, and so should be adopted by the Supreme Court when it reviews this issue later this Term.

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