Senate passes bill that strengthens laws against synthetic drugs

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INDIANAPOLIS – A bill that would mandate tougher penalties on synthetic drugs has made it through the Indiana Senate.

Senate Bill 536 passed in a 47-2 vote Tuesday. The measure makes it illegal to have or deal “lookalike” synthetic drugs. Current state law only bans substances identified as synthetic drugs based on their chemical makeup.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, authored the bill.

“Although we’ve allowed room for emergency making rules to identify new synthetic drugs, manufacturers are too quick to develop new and more dangerous substances,” Merritt said. “Our new law would follow an old adage — if it smells like a skunk and looks like a skunk, it’s probably a skunk.”

The bill would give law enforcement officials and prosecutors new tools in the fight to stop synthetic drugs. Merritt’s legislation would change the current definition of “intoxicated” to include impairment by any substance excluding food and food ingredients, tobacco or dietary supplements.

Current law includes intoxication by certain substances like alcohol and controlled drugs, creating a loophole when it comes to synthetic drugs.

Retailers caught selling synthetic drugs and lookalikes would face stronger penalties under the bill, including an automatic, one-year suspension for retailers convicted of selling the dangerous substances. The measure would also strengthen other drug laws to help the Attorney General’s office bring civil penalties.

The bill now goes to the House for further consideration.

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