Drug policy in the U.S. is sometimes confusing. Drugs can be assigned to the various schedules of the federal drug classification depending on the whim of members of congress. Drug classification may not always make sense, with both Marijuana and Heroin being classified as "Schedule I" controlled substances, despite the fact that heroin is a far more dangerous drug.
Even prescription drugs, which are "legal" can be the basis for a criminal charge if they are obtained by someone not authorized to distribute or sell them. So, some people may be lulled into the belief that a "synthetic" drug is not subject to criminal penalties in the same way that "genuine" drug would be.
One Iowa City man has found out the fallacy of that belief, after being charged with plans to distribute synthetic cannabinoids in 2014. He had been arrested as part of a nationwide drug crackdown that occurred in that year. He ran a "head shop" known as Zombies Tobacco Accessories, and had been warned by police concerning the sale of synthetic marijuana.
During the drug raid, police found synthetic cannabinoids AB-FUBINACA and THJ-2201. These items were sold under the named Bizarro and Super Nova, and while they may be synthetic marijuana, the two cannabinoids are also Schedule I controlled substances and bring just as real criminal sentences as natural marijuana.
Drug felonies involving distribution or trafficking carry much more severe penalties than merely possessing small amounts of these drugs. The man could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison if he is convicted. In addition, he could also be fined up to $100,000 and be subject to lifetime supervised released after he serves his sentence.
Source: press-citizen.com, "Former Iowa City smoke shop owner charged in synthetic drug case," Holly Hines, June 24, 2016