Local lawmakers seek ban on hallucinogenic `bath salt' drugs

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by Wes Duplantier

The Associated Press

Posted on March 1, 2011 at 9:52 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 2 at 1:02 AM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Missouri House committee considered legislation Tuesday that would ban hallucinogenic drugs that are being marketed as "bath salts" and synthetic forms of marijuana.

Law enforcement officials told the committee that the substance being sold as bath salts is actually a drug that speeds up people's heart rate, causes them to hallucinate and can make them violent toward themselves or others.

"We need to understand that these are not bath salts," said St. Joseph police Detective Frank Till. "They are simply a drug being sold under the header of bath salts to avoid DEA and FDA approval."

Dill said that shops sell the substance -- a white or light brown powder -- only to people who ask for it by codenames like "sunshine." He said some stores initially deny that they sell it.

"They're afraid because they know what they're selling," he said. "They know these drugs are killing people."

He said the stores keep selling the product despite its effects because it is profitable. He said a 250-milligram package of the substance usually costs about $27 at smoke shops or convenience stores, while a much larger container of actual bath salts can be purchased at retail stores for about $4.

The legislation discussed Tuesday would make possession of the drug in most of the "bath salts," -- a substance called methylenedioxypyrovalerone -- a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, said the legislation would also expand the definition of marijuana in state drug laws to include not only the cannabis plant, but also synthetic forms of it. Possession of up to 35 grams of those synthetic forms would be a misdemeanor and higher amounts would be a felony.

A law passed last year banned possession of one type of synthetic marijuana, called spice cannabinoids, which are sprayed on plants and sold as incense known by the name K2.

Another form of synthetic marijuana with a different chemical formula, known as K3, went on the market soon after that law went into effect. The legislation heard Tuesday would ban possession of all forms of synthetic marijuana.

Columbia attorney Dan Viets said both parts of the bill -- particularly making possession of the bath salts a felony -- would increase the number of people prosecuted for drug crimes. He said that increase would result in higher costs for the state's public defender's office and prison system.

Viets challenged a cost estimate included with the bill that said the legislation would have a minimal impact on the state's finances. In the estimate, the state public defender's office did not estimate how many new cases it would see from the law or how much defending them would cost. The Department of Corrections did not say how the legislation would affect its budget. Viets said both departments would have to spend a significant amount of money to deal with an increased number of defendants.

He said the state could save money if first-time offenders were sent to drug counseling instead of incarcerated, but he also said people who repeatedly break the law might deserve longer sentences.

"I'm not opposed to that in principle," he said. "It's just that we start out with pretty harsh sentences."

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Synthetic drugs is HB641

Online:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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