Major legislation attacking the growing problem of synthetic or “designer” drug abuse was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The action comes as poison centers, hospitals and law enforcement officers in Tennessee report a sharp increase in the number of persons who have suffered harmful effects from using various synthetic drug products. Senate Bill 2172, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), increases penalties for those convicted of selling or producing synthetic drugs and defines it in such a way that manufacturers cannot skirt the law to avoid prosecution.
Synthetic drug products, which have become increasingly popular among teens and young adults, are sold at a variety of retail outlets like convenience stores, smoke shops and over the Internet. They commonly feature cartoon characters on package labels. Some law enforcement authorities have even said that due to the huge increase, the dangerous substance has the potential to eclipse methamphetamine as the most dangerous drug in Tennessee unless action is taken.
The products are sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant food” but are comprised of a class of chemicals perceived as mimics of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine. The effects include impaired perception, reduced motor control, disorientation, extreme paranoia and violent episodes. Experts say the long-term physical and psychological effects of the drug are unknown but warn they could be severe.
“The General Assembly passed legislation to ban the chemical compound used in synthetic drugs; however, unscrupulous chemists manufacturing the drugs continue to modify molecules in the organic compound to avoid prosecution,” said Senator Beavers. “By the time a new synthetic drug is discovered and banned, another altered form of the compound has taken its place.”
The bill approved by the committee this week defines synthetic drugs in such a way as to capture any analogues. An analogue is a chemical compound having a similar structure to the banned drug. In determining if a synthetic drug is an “analogue controlled substance,” there are four law enforcement factors that must be considered and eight scientific factors which serve to define them. These include whether an analogue has a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system. Another important factor is the price difference between the substance for sale and the actual price of the legitimate product which is described in packaging or marketing the product.
“For example, consumers can purchase approximately 10 pounds of actual bath salts or plant food for what one gram of a synthetic substance packaged as these products costs,” added Beavers. “The price differential also puts sellers on notice that what they might think is legal to sell may really be a controlled substance analogue.”
The legislation increases penalties for selling, manufacturing or possessing a synthetic drug or controlled substance analogue from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony. The penalties would increase to a Class C felony if it is a second or subsequent offense or if the analogue is sold to a minor. Simple possession of 1 gram or less would be a Class A misdemeanor under the bill as would representing something as a controlled substance analogue when it is not.
“We are very hopeful that the new definition will give clarity regarding what constitutes the illegal drug, while strengthening penalties will make certain that these substances are out of reach of Tennessee’s youth,” said Senator Beavers.
Meth Registry -- In similar action, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to tighten a loophole in the state’s Meth Registry. Senate Bill 2190, sponsored by Senator Beavers, adds those convicted of promoting the manufacture of methamphetamine and those who initiated a process intended to result in the manufacture of meth to the state’s Registry. In addition, the legislation requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to collect a driver’s license number or another identification number from those listed on the Registry so innocent citizens with similar names and birthdates do not run into a roadblock when they purchase pseudoephedrine.
Bills help teachers address student discipline
Two bills have been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly to give teachers more authority and protection in disciplining students. One proposal, Senate Bill 3122, would give teachers protection from civil liability when defending themselves or when they have to intervene in a physical altercation. The other measure, Senate Bill 3116, gives teachers basic rights to control their classroom and remove consistently disruptive or violent students.
Senate Bill 3116 requires local Boards of Educations to establish clearly a complete policy regarding a teacher’s ability to remove a student from the classroom and relocate the student to another educational location for the student’s safety or the safety of others. The bill allows the use of reasonable or justifiable force as long as it is done in accordance to school policy and Tennessee law. The bill also allows teachers to intervene in a physical altercation between two or more students or a student and another school employee if necessary to end the fight.
The legislation applies to altercations on school property, as well as at official school functions or sporting events. Under the proposal, the teacher must file a brief report with the principal regarding the situation and actions taken. The student would then be subject to additional disciplinary action that could include suspension or expulsion from school. Finally, the bill requires principals to support the authority of teachers who take such action if it is done in accordance with the proposed law and the school’s policies.
Teachers have told lawmakers that many are at a disadvantage in being able to maintain discipline in the classroom due to rules on removal of consistently disruptive students. They say that this problem can hamper student progress and put teachers at a disadvantage in achieving their evaluative goals. Senate Bill 3116 aims to give teachers the ability to manage their classrooms and even remove a student if it gets to the point where the behavior is persistently disruptive.