Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear stepped up the fight against synthetic drugs on Tuesday by signing emergency regulations banning new forms of synthetic marijuana.
The action is aimed at people trying to avoid arrest by tweaking drugs that mimic the highs of marijuana, the governor said.
“This measure lets us keep pace with backyard chemists who try to skirt the law by manipulating the formulas of dangerous substances,” Beshear said in a statement in Frankfort. “And it gives us the tools to respond to threats as soon as they are identified.”
It’s the first time an administrative regulation has been used in Kentucky to outlaw synthetic substances, Beshear’s office said.
In the past, Kentucky lawmakers have passed laws banning such drugs, but using regulations allows the state to be more nimble in the fight, officials said. Beshear’s newly signed regulations take effect immediately.
Synthetic drugs, made of legal chemicals, mimic the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine and other controlled substances.
The U.S. saw a surge in the use of such drugs in recent years. The substances are often sold at small, independent stores in misleading packaging that suggests common household items like bath salts, incense and plant food. But the substances inside are powerful, mind-altering drugs that have been linked to bizarre and violent behavior across the country.
A new state law gave Beshear the authority to issue regulations to ban the new forms of synthetic marijuana.
“This streamlined process will save lives and give law enforcement a powerful tool no matter how this battlefield changes,” said Democratic state Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville, who sponsored the new law.
That law broadened the scope of banned substances to include entire classes of synthetic drugs, not just compounds. It was aimed at ensnaring people who slightly alter the drug formulas to try to get around laws that prohibit specific substances.
The governor’s action follows efforts by Kentucky drug enforcement officials who identified new forms of synthetic marijuana that were not listed by state law as banned substances.
Van Ingram, executive director of the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said Kentucky’s efforts to combat synthetic drugs have reduced their availability.
“They’re still out there,” he said. “They’re just not sold maybe as openly as they were just a year ago. It’s become more of an ‘in the back room kind of a deal.”
Ingram said he suspects this won’t be the only time an emergency regulation is used to ban a new form of synthetic drug. Once a new substance not currently banned is detected, drug enforcement officials will seek similar action, he said.
Penalties for people caught selling synthetic drugs can include forfeiture of property, fines, jail time and loss of alcohol sale licenses.