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Aromatherapy stores challenge Indiana's 'lookalike' law

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A group of store owners filed suit Wednesday, saying Indiana's efforts to curb so-called lookalike drugs have stretched beyond cracking down on synthetic drugs to granting the state arbitrary power to confiscate legal products from businesses.

Four members of the National Association of Aromatherapy Product Producers and Vendors filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, seeking to block a measure that lawmakers passed last month.

The stores, including Mishawaka organic food distributor B&B Distributions and Marion head shop Bohemian Groove, argue that the law was written too vaguely and has been hurting their business.

"The Statute provides no mandatory ascertainable standards for determining what substances are actually banned, thereby denying any party of notice of their alleged violation of the statute," the parties write in the suit.

The law bans the sale of items similar to other banned drugs. It expands on previous laws banning the sale of bath salts and synthetic drugs like spice, which mimic other controlled substances.

Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, author of the new ban, said the state has been struggling to keep pace with synthetic drug manufacturers who have found easy workarounds to previous bans. The state banned chemicals used in the creation of "bath salts" last year, but manufacturers found new chemical mixtures to work around that law.

"The bottom line is, I think we're on solid footing," Merritt said.

The lawsuit argues that the new law should also be read to ban talcum powder, cigarettes, potpourri and catnip "since it looks like marijuana."

But Merritt contests the only purpose of the synthetics the state is targeting, are to "intoxicate and wreck lives." ''People might say Pledge is a drug because you can sniff it, but you can still shine a table and shine wood with it," he said.

NAAPPV spokesman Evan McMahon said at least three Indiana convenience stores have already had herbal incense confiscated by police in the few weeks since the law took effect. The parties in the suit want to stop the sale of synthetic drugs, but also want to protect their ability to sell legal products.

Store owners attempted to work with state lawmakers to craft a narrower version of the law this session, but were stymied, McMahon said. The group is hoping the court will block the newest law so store owners can work with lawmakers on a separate measure next year.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he was ready to defend the law in court.

"The Indiana General Assembly made a public policy decision that the Indiana Code ought not be circumvented by peddlers of synthetic drugs who try to exploit loopholes in order to profit from the sale of potentially dangerous substances," Zoeller said.

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