Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jul 2015
Source: Courier-Journal, The (Louisville, KY)
Copyright: 2015 The Courier-Journal
Author: Kristina Goetz


Kentucky law enforcement officials are pushing state legislators to 
stiffen the penalties for possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs.

Possession of synthetic drugs like flakka, a new illegal drug that 
has been seen in pockets across the commonwealth and has inundated 
Lewis County, is only a misdemeanor under state law.

No matter how many times a person is arrested or how much they're 
caught with, they can only be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for 
possession. And a first-offense trafficking charge is a Class A misdemeanor.

That's not much of a deterrent, Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens said.

"I do believe this drug is killing people," he said. "I think we need 
severe punishment where it's a felony to possess it and a felony to 
traffic it."

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said this year's session focused on 
the state's heroin problem but that he plans to pre-file a bill in 
the fall for the 2016 session to toughen the penalties for synthetic drugs.

Tilley said the reason the legislature set the possession charge as a 
Class B misdemeanor several years ago is that the state's initial 
problem was with synthetic marijuana. And since possession of 
marijuana was a Class B misdemeanor, possession of synthetic 
marijuana was set at the same level.

"There was an attempt to put it on a level playing field," he said. 
"But we have since learned that really we have moved on from what is 
synthetic marijuana, and the problem is much greater."

Back then, Tilley said, legislators were addressing the "retail 
model," in which drugs were marketed as plant food and bath salts and 
sold in convenience stores. Now that flakka and synthetic others like 
it are being sold on the Internet from manufacturers in China it's a 
different story.

"I do plan to bring something to the forefront in the session," 
Tilley said. "It's time to make some changes. People have let their 
guard down with regard to synthetics, and now they're back."
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