DENVER – Legislators reached agreement Thursday on a bill to criminalize bath salts, a synthetic drug that sprang up in head shops last year.
Senate Bill 116, by Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, passed the House Judiciary Committee on an 11-0 vote. It had been hung up for a month because prosecutors were pushing for heavier penalties.
Brown said this week that he wanted the dispute solved so the bill could move forward.
“I believe the important thing is to go after the manufacturers and dealers and get this stuff off the streets,” Brown said.
Bath salts are not intended for bathing at all. They are sold in doses the size of a sugar packet for $20 to $30, and they produce a powerful high like cocaine or methamphetamine.
Until recently, they were easily available over the counter at head shops. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration made possession or sale of the substances illegal last October, but state law has not caught up.
SB 116 also makes the sale of bath salts – which are labeled “not for human consumption” – subject to a $10,000 fine under the law that bans deceptive trade practices.
The bill makes possession of the drug a misdemeanor and sale of it a felony. Prosecutors had wanted possession of the drug to be a Class 6 felony.
Tamar Wilson of the Colorado District Attorneys Council said the drug’s effects are more dangerous than methamphetamine.
“This is probably one of the most dangerous drugs we’ve seen in awhile,” Wilson said.
However, Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, said a felony conviction could ruin a young person’s life.
“If we start making kids felons for buying a sachet of what they think was recently completely legal, then we are creating criminals,” Kagan said.
In a different bill, a bipartisan group of legislators had tried to lower the penalty for simple possession of most drugs to a misdemeanor. But their bill was watered down, and it now calls only for a study of drug sentencing.
SB 116 now will go to the Appropriations Committee. It already has passed the Senate and is on track to clear the House before the Legislature goes home for the year Wednesday.
Brown said he approached the Senate sponsor, Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, after reading about bath salts in The Durango Herald.