Prison Inmate Smuggled in Synthetic Drugs

From late 2012 until April 2013, a prisoner at Taft Correctional Institution in Taft, California, acquired smoke-able synthetic cannabinoids from his brother during visits.

Some of the drugs seized by prison authorities tested positive for XLR11, which was then a controlled substance analogue.

In May 2013, the Drug Enforcement Administration classified XLR11 as a Schedule I controlled substance following reports by the Centers for Disease Control that XLR11 produces hallucinogenic effects and causes kidney damage.

Tracy McArthur Harris, 42, the inmate, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for a cocaine conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to the new charges and is scheduled for sentencing in July 2015. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Steve Harris, his brother, is scheduled for an upcoming status conference. The charges against him are only allegations, and he is considered innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Smoke-able synthetic cannabinoids are substances that look like marijuana that are sprayed or mixed with a hallucinogenic chemical and often marketed and sold in smoke shops and convenience stores as “potpourri,” “incense,” or “spice.”

The chemicals, typically imported from China, come in hundreds of varieties. New formulations appear constantly, with molecules tweaked to try to avoid classification as a controlled substance. However, because they are chemically and pharmacologically similar to controlled substances, these chemicals are considered controlled substance analogues, which are illegal under federal law.

Synthetic cannabinoid usage poses extreme health risks that have resulted in serious bodily injury or death. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, exposures to synthetic cannabinoids have spiked this year, with 2,252 exposures reported from January 1, 2015, through April 27, 2015.

Eight Charged With Synthetic Cannabinoid Distribution

Eight individuals in California and Utah have been charged with conspiracy to distribute XLR11, commonly known as spice, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Several firearms, vehicles, and cash were seized during the arrests. Approximately 2,000 pounds of spice was seized during a two-month investigation.

The potential maximum penalty for each of the nine drug counts alleged in the indictment is 20 years and a $1 million fine. Conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a potential 20-year prison sentence. The fine for the money laundering count is up to $500,000 or two times the dollar amount of the property involved in the alleged money laundering transaction.

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