Bizarro: The Surreal Saga of America’s Secret War on Synthetic Drugs and the Florida Kingpins It Captured

Inside a drug war so screwy that people don’t know what’s illegal—until it’s too late.

Bizarro is a page-turning tale of the unprecedented prosecution of Burton Ritchie and Ben Galecki, the Florida-based founders of a sprawling “spice” (synthetic cannabinoid) operation. With this book, journalist and former New York City narcotics prosecutor Jordan Rubin exposes a Reagan-era law called the Analogue Act, which targets dealers selling drugs that are “substantially similar” to controlled substances—an unwieldy law that produces erratic results in court.

Rubin brings readers deep inside the synthetic war, exploring how Ritchie and Galecki landed in its crosshairs and why one of the DEA’s own chemists may have been their best chance at freedom, until he was arrested too. This stranger-than-fiction narrative is backed by thousands of pages of court records and exclusive interviews with defendants, lawyers, law enforcement, celebrities, and more. Bizarro reveals the world of underground chemists making drugs faster than the government can ban them, dealers making millions in a grey market, and a justice system run amok.

Praise for Bizarro

“The almost insane story of the federal Analogue Act raises questions as old as the Emperor Caligula and as new as the world of contemporary head shops. Rubin tells this story in language we can all readily understand, and with a rich fund of Kafkaesque anecdotes that make the book hard to put down. Read Bizarro: you will laugh often, and you will often wonder whether you should be crying instead.”

- Garrett Epps, author of American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution

“Rubin’s journalistic eye is fresh and fun, but the depth and humanity of this work make it a notable addition for drug historians and sociologists as well.”

- Emily Dufton, author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America

“When is one thing ‘substantially similar’ to another? This Zen-ish question is at the heart of Jordan S. Rubin’s exposé of a little-known side battle in the war on drugs. A narcotics prosecutor turned journalist (a huge improvement), Rubin takes us into the scientific and ethical questions of the Analogue Act, a dystopian-sounding law passed during the Reagan Administration that came into its carceral flowering during the Obama years, and its criminalization of so-called designer drugs. Rubin’s book is a timely and sharply written account of what happens when the government, panicking over drug overdose headlines, passes laws based on dubious or nonexistent science and tries to coerce a scientific consensus. Extensively documented but rarely dry, Bizarro focuses on the lives of two men who were repeatedly told what they were doing was completely legal—right up until the time they were indicted. For those who are fans of true crime as well as serious historians, this valuable addition to the literature on the drug war answers the question, How in the world could this ever happen in America?”

- Ron Kuby, criminal defense and civil rights lawyer and the lawyer demanded by The Dude in The Big Lebowski

“Bizarro is the story of how Congress, the Justice Department, and some judges threw aside some of America’s most treasured legal principles in the effort to shut down the market for new drugs. Rubin tells the unbelievable but true story of how the government created a secret list of illegal drugs and then zealously prosecuted the businessmen who sold drugs that were on that list. He gives us one of the most fascinating books I, as a former colonel in the war on drugs, have read about the American drug war. In the 1980s, I helped Congress write some of the worst criminal laws in our history. This book details another chapter of my failures as a lawyer and the failures of the members of Congress for whom I worked.”

- Eric E. Sterling, former Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and Assistant Counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee from 1979-1989