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Proposed Indiana bills would enhance penalties for synthetic drug crimes



The Indiana Senate unanimously approved a bill last week that was aimed to enhance penalties for crimes involving synthetic drugs. The bill will now move to the state house for a vote.

Senate Bill 28 focuses on synthetic drugs that are designed to be similar to illegal drugs such as marijuana or methamphetamine. Users of these substances, sometimes called "designer drugs," are often told they will experience the same effects as with the illegal drug being imitated, but this is usually not true. 

If passed, the bill would allow those charged with making or dealing synthetic drugs to receive the same penalties as crimes for the illegal drug being imitated. 

Synthetic drug crimes are usually misdemeanors or infractions. This bill would make them felony charges like other illegal drug crimes. 

For example, someone charged with dealing a variety of synthetic marijuana, such as spice, would receive the same penalties as someone charged with dealing genuine marijuana. 

“Especially for college kids, you can’t tell the difference between a bath salt product being marketed as weed as opposed to actual weed,” claimed Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, who authored the bill. “It looks, feels, tastes, smells the same, but it’s not.” 

Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, a sponsor of the bill, also noted the negative effects of synthetic marijuana on young people.

“It’s very sad because they’re being told this is just like marijuana and of course it’s not,” Negele said. “It’s very intoxicating and very violent to your body.”

Bohacek said toughening the state’s synthetic drug laws is important to him because he works with youths in the juvenile justice system in his district and has seen the dangerous effects of synthetic drugs on them first-hand. 

Negele authored a similar bill moving through the House, House Bill 1186, that is expected to be voted on next week. 

She said it’s not unusual for there to be similar bills on each side so there’s a greater chance one will be passed. These two bills will likely ultimately be combined into one, she said.

Negele, who is on the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, said she was glad to help when the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council asked her to sponsor the bill in the House. She said she has talked with her local prosecutors about the growing problems of synthetic drugs and hopes these proposed changes will be a helpful tool for prosecutors around the state.

“You can try to list all the synthetic drugs out there, but they’re constantly evolving, so you can’t keep up in your statutes,” Negele said. “Hopefully the way we’re defining it now, we’ll be able to stay ahead of any new designer drugs coming out.”

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