By CHAD ABSHIRE
Saying the law would help “Kentucky stay a step ahead of backyard chemists who change the formulas of banned drugs to keep them legal,” Gov. Steve Beshear yesterday signed House Bill 481, which bans whole classes of synthetic drugs.
The new law, which was passed by lawmakers in this year’s legislative session, targets substances that are often sold as bath salts and potpourri but which have harmful and hallucinogenic effects.
“This measure will curtail underground chemists from tweaking a formula to get around a ban on a specific chemical substance and will go a long way toward protecting our communities and our families,” Beshear said.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the number of calls related to bath salt exposure received by poison control centers across the country had increased by more than 20 times in 2011, up from 304 in 2010 to 6,138.
“The sale and use of synthetic drugs had become an epidemic, so I’m proud to have crafted a law in HB 481 that will put a stop to this scourge, a plague that was threatening the very lifeblood of our Commonwealth,” said Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville, who sponsored the legislation.
The bill’s signing follows closely on the heels of a recent raid of a tobacco shop in Martin County for allegedly selling synthetic marijuana.
A search warrant revealed a safe allegedly full of the banned substance.
Police received complaints that the Smoke Shack on Route 80 was again selling the synthetic marijuana for which is was raided less than a month ago.
According to Prestonsburg Police Officer Trent Combs, who handled the investigation, the police department had received several complaints about the store selling the synthetic marijuana, but it was not until the department arrested another subject with the substance in his possession that they had enough information to seek a search warrant. Combs said that the subject told police he had purchased the drug at the store.
Combs said that police served the search warrant on the business and found over 700 packets of synthetic marijuana, with a value of just over $19,000. Combs said that the drugs were stored in a safe in a back room of the store.
The signed law closes legal loopholes by banning classes, not just compounds, of synthetic drugs. It also extends seizure and forfeiture laws to retailers who sell the items, makes sales a felony for a second or subsequent offense, and makes simple possession a misdemeanor. In addition, HB 481 allows a fine to be imposed that’s equal to double the gain the offender would have made.
“Synthetic drugs are often marketed as harmless household products, and this law allows us to combat this threat and educate people about the tremendous health risk posed by these substances,” Van Ingram, executive director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, said.
The bill is one of two other laws enacted this year to curb drug abuse in the Commonwealth:
• In late March, lawmakers approved and Beshear later signed Senate Bill 3, which limits the amount of cold or allergy medication containing pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in methamphetamine — that consumers can buy without a prescription.
• In April, legislators passed and Beshear signed House Bill 1, a measure aimed at tackling prescription drug abuse by requiring pain management clinics to be owned by a licensed medical practitioner and mandating participation in KASPER, Kentucky’s electronic prescription monitoring program.