SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian signed a bill Tuesday making the manufacture, possession or sale of synthetic "d-cocaine" subject to the same criminal penalties as the real drug, although the synthetic is not widespread and will not make a user high.
State Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), who carried the bill, said it was needed to "unclog a court logjam" involving thousands of cocaine prosecutions statewide.
Both houses of the Legislature passed Seymour's bill unanimously after proponents argued that an appellate ruling last year, saying that the rare drug was not illegal, had frustrated prosecutors throughout the state.
The ruling, by the state 3rd District Court of Appeal at Sacramento, forced prosecutors to prove in every cocaine case that the drug in evidence was not "d-cocaine."
"The problem is there is only one lab in the state that can tell whether it is d-cocaine or real cocaine," Seymour said.
Scientists working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration produced the synthetic compound in an experiment several years ago. But it only became an issue in criminal prosecutions after the appellate ruling last year.
Prosecutors said the problem is a legal technicality, not the synthetic compound's use.
"Anybody who tried to sell that stuff out on the streets would end up dead," said Bill Evans, head of the Orange County district attorney's office narcotics task force.
Evans said users "get very mad" when they are sold "that stuff and don't get high."
Bogus drugs are not likely to be sold on the street, the state attorney general's office said, because of the high cost of making them. And, the office reported, "the only known instance when this compound has ever been produced was by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in an experiment."
Prosecutors complained it was costly and time-consuming, however, to have the sophisticated experiment done in every case. Evans said cocaine accounts for about one-fourth of his office's 15,000 narcotics prosecutions each year. Los Angeles County prosecutors file 670 to 700 cocaine cases each month.
The law becomes effective immediately but is not retroactive.
The attorney general, however, has appealed the 3rd District's ruling to the state Supreme Court.