Governor signs law targeting synthetic drugs

Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed into law legislation to expand the list of prohibited chemicals used in making synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs.

McDonnell announced Wednesday that he had signed House Bill 1941, which included an emergency clause making it effective immediately.

In a statement, the governor said the new law “continues Virginia’s commitment to combating the spread of illegal drugs in the commonwealth and preserving the safety of our schools and neighborhoods and builds on legislative efforts earlier in my administration to combat drugs and punish drug dealers.”

HB 1941, introduced by Delegate T. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, expands a law that the General Assembly passed in 2011. The 2011 law prohibited specific chemicals used in making synthetic cannabinoids, sold under such names as K2 and Spice, and “bath salts,” a hallucinogen popularized on the Internet.

Since then, McDonnell said that “manufacturers and sellers continue to develop and market chemical variations outside the list of prohibited substances. This has challenged state lawmakers to stay current with the continually emerging chemical variations of these substances that appear in the marketplace.”

The General Assembly added to the list of prohibited chemicals in 2012 and again this year.

“With the enactment of HB 1941, Virginia now bans nine classes of cannabimimetic agents, including 26 specific synthetic cannabinoids and 41 specified research chemical compounds,” McDonnell said.

Republican Delegates G. Manoli Loupassi of Richmond and Margaret Ransone of Kinsale joined Garrett in sponsoring the bill. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate during the legislative session that ended last month.

“This legislation will help keep Virginians safe from these dangerous chemicals that are designed to profit at the expense of our children,” Garrett said.

Even as McDonnell signed HB 1941, he proposed adding more chemicals to the list of outlawed substances.

The governor noted that besides passing HB 1941, lawmakers also approved a similar Senate proposal – Senate Bill 1083, sponsored by Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg. McDonnell said he will ask the General Assembly to modify SB 1083 when it reconvenes for a one-day session on April 3.

“Since the conclusion of the 2013 General Assembly Session, the Department of Forensic Science and law enforcement officials have worked together to identify five additional chemicals recently detected in evidence,” McDonnell said.

“To account for this recent development, I will be requesting amendments for SB 1083, patroned by Sen. Mark Herring, to include these new chemicals to the list of prohibited under the Code of Virginia.”

Synthetic cannabinoids are dried herbs that have been sprayed with a chemical compound that, when smoked, creates a high similar to marijuana, according to an analysis of the legislation by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. “Bath salts” are synthetic stimulants that mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA (ecstasy) or methamphetamine.

The analysis noted that the penalties associated with those drugs can range from a fine or jail time (for possession of synthetic marijuana, a misdemeanor) to 30 years in prison (for manufacturing and distributing drugs, a major felony).
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