Bill takes aim at syntheticsState lawmakers are taking a stronger stand against synthetic drugs. Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, announced Monday in Superior new bi-partisan legislation to strengthen current state laws against the ever-evolving drugs.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
State lawmakers are taking a stronger stand against synthetic drugs. Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, announced Monday in Superior new bi-partisan legislation to strengthen current state laws against the ever-evolving drugs.
“Make no mistake, this is not a harmless drug; this is a poison,” Jauch said during a press conference in the Government Center. “And we believe this legislation will help prevent its sale.”
Wisconsin passed legislation aimed at synthetic marijuana two years ago, but manufacturers found a chemical loophole, doctoring formulas to foil the law.
“The very nature of synthetic drugs makes enforcement a challenge because, when a substance becomes illegal, producers immediately look for ways to redesign or change it so that the chemical make-up is different, but the effects are the same,” according to Dana Brueck, spokeswoman with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The law attempted to address that, but issues arose with proving that new compounds had the same effect as the old ones.
Lawmakers worked with Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen for nine months to find the right wording for the new bill.
“The proposed legislation lists about 150 known substances,” Brueck said. “It also lists base compounds and makes illegal any modifications of those base compounds done in a certain way.”
Those in the thick of the fight against drugs were optimistic about the bill.
“This list is far more complete, it has similar compounds recognized,” said Superior Police Chief Charles LaGesse. “It will make illegal what was always wrong.”
And it will add to the enforcement tool box.
“From a local perspective, for law enforcement and prosecution, this is a statute we needed,” said Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank.
Use of synthetic marijuana is a national epidemic, Jauch said, and 39 states have adopted legislation to try to stem the tide of sales. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana is the second most used illicit drug among high school seniors; marijuana remains first. The problem is more noticeable in northern Wisconsin, where synthetics have been available over-the-counter at JC Moon in Ashland and, until recently, Last Place on Earth in Duluth, Minn.
“I live in Ashland, which in a way is ground zero for this problem,” Bewley said. “The product that we hope to ban in this legislation is today being sold, is being sold there as we speak.”
The Superior City Council recently adopted new laws to regulate synthetic marijuana in the city.
“We don’t have a distributor in Superior,” LaGesse said. “We feared it would happen. It’s happened in Ashland. Our ordinance, I think, makes it pretty hard for someone to come in here and legally do that business. This law will make it, in my view, impossible for them to come do that business.”
The new law is co-authored by Senators Jauch and Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls and Representatives Bewley, Nick Milroy, D-South Range and Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay. The legislators plan to introduce it to both the Assembly and Senate Thursday.
“I think it’s up to us to fight this on every level,” Bewley said. “That’s why the state is coming forward with this legislation.”
The intent isn’t to put those who sell the substance out of business, she said.
“We want them to quit selling things that harm people,” Bewley said.
Those who crave synthetic marijuana, like those addicted to heroin or meth, will find ways to get the drug, LaGesse said. But it won’t be in plain view, being sold over the counter as a harmless substance.
“It will be forced out of the storefronts; it’s harder to get, there’s nobody thinking ‘It must be safe because look it’s right there with a cute little picture on the cover,’” the police chief said. “I think it will protect a good chunk of our community from the problem.”