Ecstasy Is Not a Controlled Substance: CA Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 03, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is Ecstasy a controlled substance?

You're probably thinking "yes," but according to a California appellate court, it's not that simple.

The court ruled that Ecstasy is not automatically a controlled substance under state law. Instead, prosecutors must prove this fact through expert testimony and scientific evidence.

Popular culture and common sense are not part of the state's evidentiary rules.

This bizarre argument was raised on behalf of Richie Quang Le, who was convicted of selling and possessing a controlled substance. He was found with 407 orange Ecstasy pills, which contained MDMA.

California law contains a list of controlled substances. If not specifically listed, a chemical compound is still treated as a controlled substance if it:

  1. Is substantially similar in chemical structure to a listed substance, or
  2. It has hallucinogenic effects.

MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is not a listed controlled substance, and thus must fall into one of these two categories.

Common sense led the trial judge to conclude that the presence of "methamphetamine" in the drug's name necessarily makes MDMA substantially similar to amphetamines. Amphetamines are controlled substances.

Courts cannot take notice of scientific facts unless first presented with evidence. This is true even though Ecstasy's effects and chemical components are well-known.

Prosecutors did not provide any testimony about chemical similarity or the hallucinogenic effects of Ecstasy. Therefore, they did not prove that Ecstasy is a controlled substance.

On this basis alone, the appellate court overturned Le's conviction. But don't expect this to happen to you. As defined, Ecstasy is a controlled substance under federal law, and in most states. And California prosecutors can just spend an hour "proving" the same.

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