Legislator wants tighter laws for synthetic drugs

Jan 16, 2013

A state senator is proposing new legislation that would tighten the state’s ban on synthetic drugs. Many synthetic substances were banned last year, but law enforcement officials have had a hard time enforcing the measure.

Current law defines synthetic drugs based on a substance’s chemical makeup. State Sen. Jim Merritt’s bill would significantly expand that definition to include: 1) a substance a reasonable person would believe is a synthetic drug, or 2) a substance that is intended to cause or simulate intoxication.

Merritt says the bill would also expand the definition of “intoxication” to include impairment by any substance, excluding food, tobacco or a dietary supplement.

“It’s kind of a full court press. I like this approach a lot better,” Merritt said. “Now it might be challengeable but I think the bottom line is right now, without this law, these synthetic drugs have kind of a bubble around them. It’s almost like a shield. It’s almost like they call the corporate veil. It’s not pierceable and what we need to do is pierce the bubble, pierce the veil that is surrounding these.”

Bloomington Police Captain Joseph Qualters said in an email “law enforcement should be in favor of any legislation that would prohibit synthetics and make it easier to take action more quickly.”

Qualters says since the ban was passed last year, his department has seen manufacturers slightly changing product ingredients so that they cannot be charged, making it difficult to enforce the law.

But Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Craig Bradley says the language in the bill should be more specific.

“I was concerned that it didn’t specify non-prescription because all drugs are synthetic and so all prescription drugs would fall under this statute,” Bradley said.

At the same time, Bradley says he thinks it’s unlikely a judge would uphold the conviction of someone who was prosecuted for having prescription drugs.