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Lawmakers struggle with bill to stop synthetic drug sales

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Lawmakers are continuing to struggle to write a law that effectively cracks down on the sale of synthetic drugs while remaining fair to businesses that might not know they’re on their shelves.

The House and Senate have been working on similar bills that will make it illegal to sell anything that could be perceived as a synthetic drug. But critics are concerned that the language is so vague it could make businesses difficult to prosecute.

The biggest controversy involves a section about so-called look-alike drugs. It essentially says that if a substance looks like a synthetic drug and acts like a synthetic drug, it is a synthetic drug.

That’s meant to get around a problem with past laws that tried to define synthetic drugs by using chemical compounds. Last year, lawmakers amended language to give the state’s pharmacy board more power to add to the list of banned drugs. But the state is not keeping up with drug manufacturers.

“Chasing the compounds is not working; we need to go after the look-alike issue,” said Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis.

But Larry Landis, director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said there are concerns with the provision.

“If it is not a synthetic drug, but a reasonable person thinks it’s a synthetic drug, it’s still a criminal act and that is our concern,” said Landis.

Landis said the bill would unfairly create a crime that takes into account neither the criminal intent nor the mental intent of the offender. So someone who is not intending to sell the drugs illegally and may not be aware that the drugs are illegal would still be prosecuted for the crime, he said.

But even after hearing the concerns, Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, said they need to move the bill along.

“At some point we have to say enough is enough, and start making some progress and stop talking these things to death,” Kubacki said. “At one point, we need to stop worrying so much about the people doing harm and start worrying about the people who are being harmed.”

Lawmakers decided to hold the bill and consider amendments next week. The similar House bill has yet to be heard in a Senate committee.
 

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