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Assembly passes tougher synthetic drug legislation

A bill to broaden the definition of synthetic drugs is headed to the Governor’s Office after the Wisconsin Assembly this week passed it.

Senate Bill 325 will strength state laws prohibiting synthetic marijuana in Wisconsin.

Last session, the Legislature made it illegal to possess, manufacture, distribute, or deliver synthetic marijuana. However, distributors have altered the synthetic formula making it difficult for prosecutors to try the cases.

“Manufacturers of these synthetic substances found a loophole in our current law, and they’re changing the makeup of these drugs quicker than we can ban them,” said Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, a sponsor of the bill. “Signing this bill into law will give DA’s the tools they need to bring successful cases against these individuals.”

The bill provides a more comprehensive list of illegal substances based on what our state crime labs are seeing and crime labs across the country. It makes illegal any chemical substances that are similar in composition to the listed substances, putting an end to the loophole, in which a drug’s chemistry is altered to avoid prosecution.

“No matter how hard the manufacturers have worked to find loopholes in the law, we will work just has hard to close those loopholes and give law enforcement the tools to stop the sale of this poison” said Sen. Bob Jauch, a sponsor of the bill and author of the original law created to make synthetic drugs illegal.

The lawmakers pointed out that synthetic marijuana is not just a regional problem but one that is considered “epidemic” across the country. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the number of calls to poison centers related to synthetic drugs soared from about 3,200 in 2010 to more than 13,000 in 2011, and over 20 deaths related to synthetic drugs were reported last year.

A survey tracking teen drug abuse reported that one in every nine high school seniors have used synthetic marijuana.

“I am pleased that the Wisconsin State Legislature has been responsive to the needs of local officials who are on the front lines of combating illegal drugs and drug abuse,” said co-sponsor Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls. “This legislation will close loopholes in our state’s ban on synthetic drugs to help keep these dangerous substances out of the hands of our kids and help district attorneys prosecute offenders.”

The lawmakers said the bipartisan bill was carefully drafted over the last year in consultation with Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Department of Justice.

It’s not known when Gov. Scott Walker will review and possibly sign the bill.