(A true story.) A drug user responded to an ad placed by a DEA informant in a drug-culture magazine. He later flew from Colorado to Maryland, where he bought some 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) from the informant. The police waited nearly a month for the suspect to synthesize something, then obtained a search warrant and searched the residence. They found the unopened bottle of P2P; apparently the suspect was not a good chemist and was unable to follow the instructions the informant gave him. They also found pipes and bongs with residues of marijuana and cocaine, plus a bottle of methylamine hydrochloride, some muriatic acid (dilute HCl), zinc strips, flasks, and other equipment.
(a) Assume you are consulting for the police. Show what synthesis the suspect was prepared to carry out, to provide probable cause for the charge of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance.
(b) Assume you are a member of the jury. Would you convict the defendant of attempting to manufacture a controlled substance?
P2P is a notoriously sought-after ingredient for the preparation of Ecstasy, as most of the molecular components are already in place and P2P by itself is not illegal to purchase. It is highly likely that the suspect was attempting to prepare a batch of Ecstasy via the following synthesis.
Reaction of P2P with the methylamine hydrochloride forms an imine, which can be reduced to the saturated amine by reaction with zinc metal in dilute hydrochloric acid. The final compound is the active ingredient in Ecstasy pills, a popular illegal substance of abuse.
Consider the facts of the case. There is no valid reason for an average homeowner to purchase P2P or methylamine hydrochloride. Zinc strips and hydrochloric acid could perhaps be explained as innocent – they are freely available at large hardware stores – but the two organic ingredients are quite specific and well known as the reagents needed to prepare Ecstasy.
However, a key fact in this case is that the bottle of P2P was unopened. It is hard to attempt to synthesize a compound without opening the bottle containing your starting material. It is highly likely the defendant was preparing to attempt the synthesis, but an unopened bottle points towards an “innocent” verdict for actually attempting to synthesize the Ecstasy.
There are multiple other charges that could be brought against the defendant, but without access to the starting material (unopened bottle) it is hard to argue that an attempt had already been made to perform the synthesis.