Hardin officials prepare for synthetic drug ban

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Governor signs House Bill 481 into law

By Sarah Bennett

A new state law banning synthetic drugs signed last week by Gov. Steve Beshear has local officials making preparations to combat the drugs.

House Bill 481 made it through the House of Representatives with unanimous approval before the Senate voted 35-2 in favor of the synthetic drug ban.

Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, said he was surprised to hear legislators voted “no” as the bill had a lot of support in the House and Senate.

“That was a very positive bill we did,” Parrett said.

Because an emergency clause was attached to the bill, the ban went into effect April 11, when the governor signed it into law, said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown.

“This was something so important, it couldn’t even wait,” Moore said.

Until April 11, many cigarette shops, convenience stores and gas stations legally were selling synthetic drugs over the counter. The chemically manufactured products are designed to mimic the high created by illicit substances such as marijuana and  methamphetamine.

Hardin County Attorney Jenny Oldham said her office will send letters to all merchants they have received complaints against. After a “pretty short education period,” any business found to sell the illegal product will be prosecuted.

“Frankly, they knew it was coming,” Oldham said.

Ron Eckart, director of Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force, said police will begin conducting business inspections later this month.

“If they are still selling it, appropriate law enforcement action will be taken at that time,” Eckart said.

Trafficking in synthetic drugs is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail for the first offense, Oldham said. A subsequent offense is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in jail.

Last year, the governor signed a law making synthetic marijuana products illegal, but the law targeted chemicals applied to the products to induce a high. Manufacturers of synthetic drugs reacted by altering ingredients, officials say.

As the legislature became aware of the growing synthetic drug problem, it was able to quickly turn around the new ban, Moore said.

Rather than targeting chemicals, the new law outright bans synthetic drugs, defined as “any synthetic cannabinoids or piperazines or any synthetic cathinones” or “any chemical compound which is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, or if approved which is not dispensed or possessed in accordance with state and federal law.”

Prior to the law’s signing, police could not make an arrest unless the offender was operating a vehicle under the influence of an illegal synthetic substance at the time, said Bryce Shumate, public information officer for Radcliff Police Department.

The new law allows police to make an arrest and charge a user with abuse, possession or trafficking in synthetic drugs, he said. Law officials are able to confiscate and destroy the drugs.

“It allows us to make the arrest and hold these people accountable,” Shumate said.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.