In charging a 21-year-old Blaine man in the overdose death of a fellow partygoer, authorities are pursuing a case that involves a drug new to Minnesota through rarely used federal and state laws.
Timothy Lamere was charged Monday with third-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Trevor Robinson-Davis, who died after inhaling the synthetic hallucinogen 2C-E. Lamere and nine others were hospitalized after Lamere allegedly provided the drug at a house party in Blaine last week. Authorities said he bought it online.
Those who track drugs in the state say it's the first time they've heard of that specific version of the drug in the state, but other similar varieties appeared a decade ago at rave parties.
Although 2C-E is not listed as a controlled substance under federal law, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has said it is illegal under the Federal Analog Act, which says drugs that are substantially similar to illegal drugs in structure and effects are also illegal. The act was approved in the '80s to address newly concocted substances and synthetic drugs designed to evade the law.
But prosecutions under the analog law are rare, and it appears the legality of 2C-E has never been tested in a Minnesota court. And searches of news reports and federal court records from across the country turned up no evidence that 2C-E has ever been put through the test by any court in the U.S.
That means if Lamere's case goes to trial, Anoka County prosecutors would have to show that 2C-E is similar to the banned Schedule I drug 2C-B.
Paul Young, chief the criminal division for the Anoka County Attorney's Office, acknowledged that prosecutors would have to explain 2C-E's legality in a trial.
"We have to prove every element in court. We're held to our burden of proof in every aspect of the case," he said.
Carol Falkowski, drug abuse strategy officer for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said proving the drug can be classified as illegal shouldn't be a problem.
"They are very, very similar," Falkowski said.
A former federal prosecutor in Louisiana who handled a case involving 2C-E agreed. The attorney, Brian Capitelli, in 2007 indicted an international student from Ecuador on federal charges of distributing 2C-E.
It's the most publicized case involving 2C-E before the Blaine overdose. The case hasn't moved forward but is still open, perhaps meaning the defendant fled arrest.
Capitelli declined to discuss what happened with the case, but he said it was the first time his district had ever indicted anyone under the analog law.
"Most of these controlled substance analog cases are probably not prosecuted unless there is some kind of extenuating circumstance, like an overdose, or if someone's on the DEA's radar," Capitelli said.
While not involving 2C-E, several cases have been prosecuted under the analog law in the last decade with mixed results. In Maryland, two men pleaded guilty to possession of an analog of the date rape drug GHB. But in Georgia, most of the charges against a man accused of distributing analogs of the same drug were dropped after a defense witness, a chemist, testified the drugs in question were different from the illegal substance.
"They had their experts and we had ours," said Carl Lietz, the federal public defender who tried to get the man, Billy Vickery, cleared. In the end, the judge dismissed most of the case, and Vickery pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of selling a food product without proper labeling.
Lietz said the analog law "gives the DEA too much discretion" and can lead to subjective judgments.
"Oftentimes the case boils down to what experts say," he said. "If [a drug] is such a problem, Congress ought to come in and schedule something."
There's already talk of banning 2C-E. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Monday that she plans to introduce legislation to include 2C-E as part of a bill banning other chemicals used in synthetic drugs.
"It makes it much easier for prosecutors if you actually have the drug on the list," Klobuchar said in an interview. "If we know this drug is trouble, we already know a kid died from it in our state, and we know it's trouble, while the analog statute can be used, it is simpler to simply list the illegal substance."
"This looks illegal, it acts illegal, it killed someone, and it should be illegal," she added.
Young said Anoka County prosecutors are focusing on Lamere's role in providing the drug rather than going after the website that sold it. But it's possible the DEA and U.S. Attorney's Office would pursue further action.
"We'll certainly work with the DEA and U.S. Attorney's office as this moves forward," Young said.
Federal authorities in 2004 cracked down on online pharmacies that were selling designer drugs. A couple of the cases involved drugs in the 2C family, but not specifically 2C-E.