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State senator says he wants to impose mandatory minimums on dealers selling fentanyl-laced drugs



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Sen. Jimmy Merrett, R-District 31, speaks in the Indiana State House senate chambers in Indianapolis on Tuesday. Merritt said he plans to propose legislation imposing a mandatory 10-year-minimum sentence on drug dealers caught bringing fentanyl-laced narcotics into the state. Evan De Stefano Buy Photos

INDIANAPOLIS — Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, held a press conference Tuesday morning in the state senate chambers to announce his plans to write laws for the 2018 legislative session pertaining to law enforcement safety and synthetic drugs — particularly fentanyl, an extremely powerful opioid responsible for many overdoses in recent years. 

Some of the legislation would repeal the synthetic drug statute and impose mandatory minimum sentences on drug dealers caught with fentanyl-laced products.

“We’re going to say to drug dealers, ‘Do not come in our state, and if you have cocaine or heroin that’s laced with fentanyl, you’re going to have a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence,’” Merritt, the senate majority caucus chair, said.

Merritt said he wants the same minimum sentence to apply for deaths resulting from drug deals. He also said he hoped to introduce laws imposing even stricter penalties for criminals convicted of using a gun in the execution of a crime, and said he wants those penalties to be non-suspendable. 

“And I believe that we can talk to, and say to the criminal, ‘Do not use a gun,’” he said. 

The senator described the synthetic drug problem as “whack-a-mole” because the statutes need to be revised annually to account for new substances. Merritt said Tuesday he wanted to eliminate those statutes in favor of charging people for possession of whatever drug the synthetic version was intended to mimic. 

He specifically mentioned K2, or spice, a a dangerous synthetic intended to imitate the effects of marijuana, and 25I-NBOMe, a hallucinogen that is often sold as the more popular psychedelic drug LSD.

“If it’s considered anything from China that’s considered synthetic drugs, we are going to completely scrap the synthetic drug statute, and it’s all going to be considered schedule one,” Merritt said.

Merritt said he’d like to introduce legislation giving off-duty law enforcement officers the same protections as on-duty ones. He also talked about dangers officers face when responding to crimes involving fentanyl. 

Just an hour after his own press conference, Merritt sat in the front row of the atrium one floor below the senate chambers as Gov. Eric Holcomb and IU President Michael McRobbie announced a new initiative to combat the state’s opioid crisis.

In the last legislative session, Merritt authored laws regarding how pharmacists fill opioid prescriptions and how these prescriptions are kept track of. This data-driven approach was referenced in the IU presentation. 

Tuesday’s announcement, which focused on law enforcement-focused initiatives, signaled that Merritt may take a different strategy to combat the opioid crisis.

“I feel very very comfortable in a non-budget year because I think we need to tackle this law enforcement safety issue right now,” Merritt said.

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