Prosecutor: Penalties For Synthetics Should Be Drug-Specific

Indiana legislators have passed three versions of a synthetic drug ban, but some say it needs to be updated again to differentiate between kinds of drugs.


Photo: Drug Enforcement Administration

Spice Silver is a synthetic drug created to mimic the effects of cannabis. It is sometimes marketed as herbal incense or an herbal smoking blend.

Proponents of a newly updated ban on synthetic drugs say the law might need to be modified again to differentiate penalties for selling and possessing different kinds of drugs.

A ban on synthetic drugs in Indiana first became law in 2011. It was then updated in 2012 and again this year to create a broader definition of synthetic drugs. The previous law defined a synthetic drug based on its chemical components. The updated version defines it as anything a reasonable person would consider a synthetic drug—an attempt to stop manufacturers from getting around the ban by making slight chemical changes to their drugs.

Jennifer Haley, the homicide and narcotics specialist for the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, says the law is necessary, but it needs another update to reclassify the various types of drugs.

“They are treated the same under the legislature,” Haley says. “They should not be, and that is something that we need to look at because synthetic marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids are a totally different creature than these bath salts which are mimicking meth and cocaine, and those kind of drugs.”

Haley says penalties for synthetic cocaine for example should be higher than others because it poses a bigger threat.

State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) authored the ban and says this approach gets tricky is when police try to identify the substances based on chemical compounds, which is why a broader law was needed.

“We don’t have the ability to test, to have field tests, and law enforcement is really kind of ham-strung with the previous law,” he says.

Still, Merritt says he wants to consider classifying synthetic drugs into separate categories as a part of a larger overhaul of the state’s criminal code. Legislators passed the criminal code overhaul this year but plan to revisit it during the next legislative session before it goes into effect in 2014.

Emily Wright

Emily, an Indianapolis native, joined WFIU/WTIU in 2013 as Producer of Noon Edition. She studied Telecommunications and Liberal Arts Management at Indiana University.

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