Legislation addressing growing problem of synthetic drugs takes effect today

(NASHVILLE, TN), May 14, 2012 – Legislation designed to wage a major attack on the growing problem of synthetic or “designer” drug abuse in Tennessee became effective today.  Governor Bill Haslam marked implementation of the new law, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), in a ceremonial signing which took place in Bristol, Tennessee.  

“I am very pleased this legislation has been signed into law,” said Senator Beavers, who is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “This is a huge problem in Tennessee as we see more and more people show up in emergency rooms across the state due to the powerful and harmful effects of these drugs.”

The products, which imitate dangerous illegal substances, are often sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food” but are comprised of a class of chemicals perceived as mimics of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine.  The effects include impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia and violent episodes.  Experts say the long-term physical and psychological effects of the drug are unknown but warn they could be severe.  

Beavers said the General Assembly has passed laws previously to ban the chemical compound used in synthetic drugs; however, unscrupulous chemists manufacturing the drugs continue to modify molecules in the organic compound to avoid prosecution.  By the time a new synthetic drug is discovered and banned, another altered form of the compound has taken its place.

Senate Bill 3018 attacks synthetic drug abuse by defining it to capture any analogues, which are chemical compounds having a similar structure to the banned drug.  This legislation creates a new Class D felony offense for a person to knowingly manufacture, deliver, dispense or sell a controlled substance analogue.  The proposal elevates penalties upon a second or subsequent violation to a Class C felony.  If the violation involves the delivery, dispensing or sale of a controlled substance analogue to a minor, the offender will be punished one classification higher than the punishment for delivering, dispensing or selling to an adult.  The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor offense for a person knowingly possess or casually exchange under a gram of a controlled substance analogue.

“This legislation defines synthetic drugs in a way that helps to ensure that manufacturers or drug dealers cannot skirt the law,” added Beavers.  “Our law enforcement authorities have told us these dangerous drugs have the potential to eclipse meth if we do not get a handle on it.  This bill will take a major step forward in defining these drugs so we can prosecute those who are manufacturing and marketing it to Tennesseans.  Hopefully, it will save many lives.”

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