Nevada panel hears testimony on designer drugs
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – One of the hardest parts of clamping down on designer drugs is figuring out how to define them – and staying ahead of those who make them, experts told a Nevada legislative panel Tuesday.
The testimony came during a hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on two bills, SB224 and SB228, which would make it illegal to possess or sell synthetic marijuana or the misleadingly named bath salts that are smoked or snorted for drug-like highs.
Synthetic marijuana has been sold under names such as K2, Spice and Red Dawn. Bath salts have carried such names as Ivory snow, White Knight and Hazy.
Both drugs have come under increased scrutiny by federal and state governments both for the speed in which they have taken hold and their impact. Both drugs have been linked to deaths and seizures in the United States and Great Britain.
“All of these compounds are problematic,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, speaking of synthetic marijuana. “You are better off smoking straight marijuana because these things can kill you.”
David Jones, deputy chief with the Nevada Division of Investigation, said there’s a perception, especially among young people, that because the compounds of synthetic pot are legal, the substance is safe.
“They couldn’t be more wrong,” he said.
Diane M. Machen, criminologist with the Washoe County sheriff’s office, showed the committee several samples of bath salts she said she bought from a store across the street from a Reno middle school. Some were in packets, others in little jars. One, called Hawaiian Blue, she purchased for $26.99
The bath salts Machen testified, give users an amphetamine like high, but when taken in increasing doses, a person “reaches more of an LSD-type high and goes into a more severe state of hallucinations.”
Testimony supporting reclassifying synthetic marijuana fell along the same lines as those for reclassifying bath salts – that these currently legal compounds have no age restrictions, are readily available, and can cause death.
Opposition to the bills was generally limited to how best to define the drugs – whether specifying compounds or opting for broader language that would encompass a class of compounds. It also focused on the fear that regardless of how well the bills were worded, they would not be enough to work as preventative measures and halt the next synthetic narcotic that could be coming down the pike.
Machen said the people who make these designer drugs “are definitely way ahead of the curve, definitely, so it will be hard to keep up.”
Rebecca Gasca, legislative and policy director of the ACLU of Nevada, agreed that the fight is a losing one and proposed investing in education as to the drugs’ physiological and psychological impact as possible safeguards.
Gasca also said the proposed penalties were too harsh. The bills would make possession of 4 grams or more a trafficking crime that carries a possible prison term of one to six years.
Were Nevada to outlaw synthetic marijuana, it would join Arizona, which enacted a similar ban in November. It would also bolster what is currently a one-year federal ban under an emergency measure implemented by the Drug Enforcement Agency in March. Banning bath salts would put Nevada on the side of Idaho and Kentucky which have also banned these substances.
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