GHB: Legal consequences

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 3:54 pm


On February 18, 2000, the Hillary Farias and Samantha Reed Date-Rape Prohibition Act (Public Law 106-172) made the GHB precursor GBL a List I chemical, subject to the criminal, civil, and administrative sanctions of the Controlled Substances Act. On March 13, 2000, GHB became a Schedule I controlled substance (65 FR 13235-13238), subject to the regulatory controls and the criminal, civil, and administrative sanctions of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I, which is the same as for heroin, LSD, and marijuana, states that the drug has no medical use and cannot be prescribed, and that the drug has a high potential for abuse.
Previously, the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996 had made it a felony to give an unsuspecting person a date rape drug — a category that includes GHB — with the intent of committing violence, including rape. In February 2001, legislators in Pennsylvania strengthened analog statutes to include chemicals substantially similar in substance or effect. The action is intended to further combat the use of GHB precursors like GBL and BD.
GHB was first made illegal in 1990, when several reports of adverse reactions in individuals using nutritional and weight loss supplements containing GHB led the FDA to ban the drug. This ban made GHB use illicit except under FDA-approved, physician-supervised protocols.
GHB remains legal in many countries in Europe, Central, and South America, and elsewhere.

Legal history

Until 1990, when it was declared illegal except for approved medical use, GHB use was legal in the United States, and it was typically sold at health food stores. Numerous cases of illness related to GHB led the federal government to declare its use, manufacture, and distribution illegal.
The first known court case involving GHB use occurred in May 1990, after a teenager in Duluth, Georgia, drank a mixture of water and two teaspoons of Somatomax PM obtained from a health food store. Within 20 minutes, the teen was in a coma; his parents took him to the hospital for emergency treatment, where he recovered. Hospital physicians told the parents that if their son had been found a half hour later, he might have died. When the parents reported the incident to the FDA, the agency launched an investigation that uncovered 57 more cases of GHB-related illness and prompted wide-scale prosecution of GHB sale and misuse.
In March 1991, the FDA and the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the operators of Amino Discounters Ltd. on criminal charges of making, distributing, and promoting GHB. Amino Discounters manufactured and distributed the drug, sold under the brand name Somatomax PM. The indictment charged the firm and the individuals involved with counts of operating an unregistered drug firm, selling misbranded drugs in interstate commerce, and manufacturing misbranded drugs. The individuals pleaded guilty and were convicted.
In a separate indictment in San Francisco, a grand jury named the operators of a company called California Body Club, in San Leandro and Carmel, California, with illegal distribution of GHB obtained from Amino Discounters. The indictment charged the company with promoting, selling, and shipping GHB, and also with distributing drugs with false and misleading labels. The operators pleaded guilty and were sentenced to in-home detention, probation, and community service.
Since these initial cases, laws against GHB have been tightened and the government has increased efforts to prosecute illegal distributors and users of GHB and its precursors.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

GHB is a Schedule I controlled substance according to the Controlled Substances Act. As such, it is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to manufacture, distribute, or dispense GHB, or to possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense GHB. The penalty for manufacturing or distribution of GHB includes sentencing individuals to 20 or more years in jail and a large fine.
It is also unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess GHB. Any person who violates this law may be sentenced to not more than one year in jail, fined a minimum of $1,000, or both. Repeated offenses may result in greater penalties.
GHB is also officially classified as a date rape drug, a classification intended to establish the basis for harsher penalties under federal law if the distribution facilitates a violent crime. The Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996 makes it a felony to give an unsuspecting person a date rape drug with the intent of committing violence, including rape. The law also imposes penalties of large fines and up to 20 years in prison for importing or distributing more than one gram of these drugs, which include GHB.

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