Cracking Down on Synthetic Drugs

(The following article has been take from Oil Express, Vol. XXXVII, Issue No. 12) 

A wrongful death suit that names a major oil company and a jobber as defendants suggests that mystery shopping programs should be used to keep synthetic drugs from being sold at gas stations. 

An Oil Express survey revealed that most majors prohibit selling synthetic drugs and some – including BP, Citgo, and Shell – have warned that stations caught selling the products could lose their brand. 

The suit argues that the majors need to actively enforce those restrictions.  The suit, filed by the parents of a 16-year old who died after consuming synthetic marijuana bought at a Georgia convenience store, targets BP Products North America Inc. and distributor, Geo. H. Green Oil Co. Inc., though neither company operated the store. 

The complaint alleges that the retailer should have been trained that the drug was harmful and should have been disciplined for selling it.  It also alleges that BP could have found out about the sale of the product through its quarterly mystery shopping inspections that are used to enforce station image and operating standards.

The plaintiffs point out that BP uses mystery shoppers to monitor compliance with laws governing the sale of tobacco and alcohol. 

Though the suit makes no mention of this, Shell already instructs mystery shoppers to inspect stores for synthetic drugs.  Its program literature warns that Shell will fine the distributor and possibly de-brand the site if the retailer is caught selling the products.  The document also features pictures of some of the packaging for synthetic drugs, as well as banned paraphernalia. 

The parents of the teen who died on March 4, 2012, claim BP and Green Oil were “negligent” and partly responsible for the teen’s death.  The BP station was operated by Yong S. Om, owner of Rockom Investments Inc., which leased the property from Green Oil. 

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs says this suit could be the first to hold a fuel supplier and a major oil company responsible for a death related to synthetic drugs.  Other cases – such as a recent suit against a convenience store in Colorado – target the retailer. 

Green Oil said in a statement that it “had no knowledge” of synthetic marijuana or that product was sold at any of the gas stations in its network. 

The suit asks for unspecified actual and punitive damages.  The complaint says that the product, labeled “Mojo Diamond” was “prominently displayed” at Green Oil’s BP in Peachtree City, Georgia. 

Georgia legislature outlawed the sale of synthetic marijuana, as well as similar products or “homologues” of the chemical JWH-018, including AM-2201 found in Mojo Diamond in 2010.  The plaintiffs also claim the drug is illegal under a federal law enacted in 1986 that allows “analogue” drugs to be treated as controlled substances. 

On July 9, 2012, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 into law, making the distribution of many chemicals in synthetic drugs illegal. The National Conference of State Legislatures has reported that at least 43 states ban synthetic drugs.

However, the investigator for the Fayette County, Georgia’s Sheriff’s Office said that at the time the drug was sold at the Green Oil store, it was not illegal and as a result, no arrests were made in the case.  The product was immediately removed from the store when the operator found that it was linked to the teen’s death. 

Part of the problem is that synthetic drug bans typically have prohibited specific ingredients, and the drug producers keep tweaking the formula so that the products can skirt the law.  Synthetic drugs also are often deceptively labeled as “incense”, “bath salts”, or “potpourri” and “not for human consumption”. 

The suit alleges that the defendants – or at least their affiliates – knew that the product was used to “get high”.  The plaintiffs allege that Green Oil should have been aware its dealer was selling synthetic pot because news articles suggest that the sale of synthetic drugs had been an “important topic of considerable discussion and concern” in the industry for at least two years before the teen’s death.

“Green Oil is extremely sympathetic to the Burnett Family for its loss and commends them for their efforts to create awareness and change the law,” said Green Oil’s attorney in a statement.  But “the facts will clearly show the allegations against Green Oil are not true”. 

BP has refused to comment on the details of pending litigation, but did say that BP “did not own or operate this retail site and BP intends to vigorously defend itself it the matter”.