You know it’s illegal to sell cocaine, but did you know it is also illegal to sell a bag of baby powder and baking soda if you pretend it’s cocaine? You could actually be charged for both making the fake “cocaine” (under California Health and Safety Code 109575 (HS)) and for selling it to someone you have tricked into thinking it is real (under 11355 (HS)).
Why is Selling Fake Drugs Illegal?
Many people wonder why it is against the law to sell fake drugs and what the harm is. After all, the government isn’t worried about protecting people from getting ripped off when they buy illegal substances. But the problem isn’t in the inherent fraud of selling counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting users, but in the physical danger to the buyer.
Obviously, shooting, smoking, or snorting unknown substances can be dangerous to a person’s health. Some people even mix toxic chemicals in their imitation drugs, which could cause someone to suffer serious physical harm when smoked, injected, or snorted.
But even if the fake drug itself is entirely safe, there is always the risk that the buyer falsely believes they have developed a tolerance to the drug and try to up their dosage the next time they get the actual drug, which could result in an overdose. Additionally, were this law not on the books, it would be difficult to enforce laws against selling synthetic drugs because those accused of the later offense would simply argue they were selling fake drugs.
What is the Charge for Selling Fake Drugs?
There are actually two statutes dealing with the sale and manufacture of fake drugs. The first law, covered by California Health and Safety Code 109575 (HS), makes it a criminal offense to manufacture, distribute or possess with intent to distribute an imitation drug.
The second law, filed under Health and Safety Code 11355 (HS), makes it a crime to promise to sell or give someone a controlled substance and then substitute the real thing for something else. If you intended to sell someone the real thing and then changed your mind and substituted out the controlled substance before the deal was completed, you will be treated as though you arranged to sell an actual drug.
Consequences for Selling Fake Drugs
The less serious of these crimes is the manufacture of imitation drugs under 109575 (HS). This law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
If you actually give someone a counterfeit drug when they think they’re buying the real thing, you could face either misdemeanor or felony charges based on the specifics of the crime. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you could face up to one year in county jail or summary probation. When the crime is charged as a felony though, you could face up to three years in prison or be sentenced to formal probation.
What About Synthetic Drugs?
In some cases, people may sell imitation drugs that have similar effects as the real thing. These so-called “designer” or “synthetic” drugs may be labeled as “bath salts” or plant food” and mimic stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine. In these cases, the charges are filed under California Health and Safety Code 11375.5 (HS).
Alternatively, some synthetic drugs are called “spice” and replicate the effects of marijuana. These synthetic cannabis products are prohibited under 11357.5 (HS).
Both of these criminal charges are misdemeanors, carrying a potential sentence of up to 6 months in jail. If someone is accused of possession for use of these synthetic controlled substances, they could face an infraction, punishable by a fine, or a misdemeanor, which could result in up to 6 months of jail time.
You Can Fight These Charges
If you have been accused of selling fake drugs in California, speak with a defense lawyer as soon as possible. Remember that anything you say could be used against you, so you should never talk to the police without your attorney present. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.