One of the most frequent questions I hear about bath salts is…. why are they still legal? Making and enforcing laws to ban drugs is not as simple as one might think, and right now the battle to criminalize bath salts rages in both federal, state, and even local governments.
In September of 2011, the DEA asked to impose an emergency ban on the active ingredients in bath salts, including MDPV, mephedrone, and methylone. The act went into effect in October of 2011, placing these chemicals on Schedule 1 drug classification, temporarily until we can find more evidence to make this ban permanent.
Some states began to place a ban on bath salts before even the federal government, with Louisiana leading the pack. In January of last year, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced an emergency ban on six substances that are often found in the legal drug called “bath salts.” Many of the other bans, including the federal ban, do not include quite as many compounds. In the year following Jindal’s emergency ban, 33 more states followed suit. Since the beginning of this year, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Delaware have also join the battle to ban bath salts. These substances are also illegal in parts of California and other states, as local governments put the bans in place.
The U.S Congress is currently debating who should enforce this federal ban. One side of the argument thinks the law will be better served by letting state and local government handle the bans and enforcement of the new laws, while the other side maintains the federal government should take a more active part in these matters. So for now, we are left in limbo, and it is up to state and local governments to not only place these bans, but also to enforce the laws against these drugs.
That is not the only problem surrounding the ban of bath salts in the United States. These bans are placed on certain chemicals that are in these bath salts, and often the bans only contain two or three of the possible chemical compounds. Chemists simply change the formula slightly, to circumvent the ban, while still producing drugs with the similar effects on its users.
The State of Florida just passed a revised ban on bath salts. Last year, they approved the first ban on bath salts. Less than a month later, bath salts appeared on the market with a different formula that was not under the ban. The revised legislature also includes these chemicals. By the time the revised legislature passes, the new variety of bath salts will have been on the market for over six months. And once the new legislation is passed, a similar chemical compound will likely to have already appeared. The chemists can easily stay one step ahead of the law because putting a new law into effect can take some time.
Furthermore, these bans do not often impose serious punishments for the sale of these substances. Many of the bans include no punishment for violating this law, while the rest of them are only misdemeanor charges. These bath salts are making lots of money for the vendors who sell them, and I would be willing to bet many would risk a misdemeanor charge to keep bringing in thousands of dollars.
I live in a state where these bath salts are banned. I know someone who works in a head shop here, and I asked him if he would tell me what he knew about bath salts. He told me that they are still sold in some of the head shops, although the number of shops still selling it has diminished. All of these shops keep these products hidden behind the counter, and the customer must ask for them. There are certain things that the seller must say; such as they are not for human consumption. If buyers talk about using it as a drug, they are often immediately thrown out of the store. I am unsure if these stores are selling a bath salt containing a banned product, or one that is chemically altered to skirt the ban.
I also asked my friend who was buying these things. He said that no one under 18 is allowed to buy them, and that the majority of the users were “older.” My friend is 25, and he clarified “older” to mean in the age range from 35 to 45. This actually surprised me at first, as I would have assumed it was younger kids obtaining this somewhat legal drug.
After thinking about it, though, this age group of users began to make more sense to me. By the time you are 40, you are often out-of-the-loop. Obtaining drugs from a street dealer might be more difficult, and buying them at a head shop would be less conspicuous and more socially acceptable. Furthermore, I searched the Internet for videos of people using these bath salts. The only videos I found of people on bath salts were from police cars, hospitals, or jails. In contrast, I found a slew of videos of kids taking synthetic marijuana and salvia. This tells me that it could be an older generation using these bath salts because the younger generation tends to video everything, posting it all over. The 40-somethings are much more hesitant to do this.
My friend also mentioned that a lot of people buying synthetic drugs may be on probation, or in a job that drug tests often. This goes for both synthetic marijuana and bath salts. These substances cannot be detected in a drug test, so people who need to take drug tests may often use these undetectable substances.
As our legislation and law enforcement is held in the bureaucratic limbo, these substances will still remain on the shelves. Even more daunting, as long as the chemist keeps changing the formula to circumvent the law, these substances will remain in our news.