STATEHOUSE (Jan. 9, 2013) – State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) today filed legislation to give law enforcement officers and prosecutors statewide the specific tools they need to target manufacturers and users of dangerous synthetic drugs.
Merritt’s bill, if approved by the Indiana General Assembly, will act as a multi-faceted approach to stop the proliferation and sale of synthetic drugs that are often marketed to Hoosiers under names like “Spice” and “Bath Salts.”
First, Merritt’s bill proposes a broad definition of synthetic drugs that does not rely on the chemical makeup of individual substances. Under the bill, the definition for “synthetic drugs” includes:
- A substance a reasonable person would believe is a synthetic drug.
- A substance a reasonable person would believe is being sold or purchased as a synthetic drug.
- A substance that a person knows or should have known is intended to be consumed and that consumption is intended to cause or simulate intoxication.
“Despite two well-intentioned attempts to thwart this scourge of synthetic drugs in our society, manufacturers are still quickly finding different chemical compounds that allow them to skirt our current laws, even with emergency policymaking rules in place,” Merritt said. “If this new definition is approved, making a slight change in the chemical makeup of a drug but continuing to market that substance as one that will cause intoxication, will be illegal.”
State police officials said the new synthetic drug definition is a vital tool for officers.
“People are learning that the most lucrative way to sell synthetic drugs is to manufacture their own,” Tami Watson, an Indiana State Trooper, said. “Unfortunately, these black market dealers are purchasing chemicals online without knowing what these substances are or their side effects, but still fully intending for them to cause a high after consumption. This is very dangerous.”
Merritt’s legislation will also alter the current definition of “intoxication” under Indiana code to include impairment by any substance, excluding food and food ingredients, tobacco or a dietary supplement. The Hoosier state’s current definition for intoxication only includes being under the influence of certain substances like alcohol and controlled drugs.
“Indiana State Police have experienced several cases where drivers were severely impaired by unidentified synthetic drugs, but our officers were unable to cite,” Watson said. “This new definition for intoxication will allow us to help keep those individuals off the road.”
Merritt said his legislation will also strengthen law enforcement officers’ tools against Indiana retailers who are selling synthetic drugs and look-alikes for profits. In such a situation, Merritt’s bill calls for retail merchants’ certificates to be automatically suspended for one year. A second offense will warrant a Class D Felony.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who recently launched a statewide synthetic drug enforcement initiative, worked with Merritt to identify ways to strengthen current state law and expand enforcement opportunities. Under Merritt’s proposed legislation, the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (DCSA) and the drug nuisance statute would be strengthened in order to help the Attorney General’s office bring civil actions against retailers to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.
“Synthetic drug manufacturers have continued to manipulate their products’ ingredients to avoid complying with Indiana’s laws,” Zoeller said. “And some retail merchants are knowingly selling these drugs marked with phony labels like ‘bath salts’ and ‘potpourri’ and implying these products are safe. This legislation would strengthen state statutes and give the Attorney General’s office more tools to use when prosecuting retailers caught selling these types of drugs.”
Currently, the Department of Revenue (DOR) can revoke a retailer’s business license through an administrative process if there is a criminal conviction. Zoeller worked to include the provision that would allow judges to order the DOR to immediately revoke a retail merchant certificate in judgments issued based on DCSA violations. Zoeller said this provision could stop a problem business from operating even if a separate criminal case was still pending.
Merritt’s legislation will likely be assigned to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law.
“My message to synthetic drug makers, retailers and users is this: The distribution of these dangerous substances will stop,” Merritt said. “We must eliminate any interest Hoosiers have in buying, selling and manufacturing synthetic drugs.”