AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that will strengthen Maine’s laws against the synthetic drug known as bath salts was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage on Monday.
A law passed last September banning bath salts became hard to enforce because drug makers could vary ingredients in the drugs to make them legal. Five more cathinone derivative substances that were sold in local stores and on the streets were identified. This bill makes those substances illegal.
“This law also bans a synthetic hallucinogenic designer drug not chemically related to bath salts which was found at Marshwood Middle School in Eliot earlier this year,” the governor’s office said in a press release.
“This bill is another step toward strengthening Maine’s drug laws,” LePage said in a statement. “Hallucinogenic drugs are a problem, and they have been expanding rapidly, endangering the lives of Mainers, especially our youth. I would like to thank Rep. [Roberta] Beavers, [D-South Berwick] for her dedication with regard to banning these substances, and I remain committed to working toward solutions to this complex problem.”
Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia was pleased to see the bill signed into law.
“That’s a huge step forward,” said Gastia. “That will effectively put a tool in law enforcement’s toolbox.”
Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross echoed Gastia’s sentiments.
“We’re very pleased to see the state being so proactive in this,” said Ross. “Laws can’t always catch up to it in time. The fact the state has acted so quickly will save the taxpayers a lot of money and it will also reduce the amount of bath salts coming into our community.”
Gastia said the previous law helped in making arrests, but drug makers were quick to change ingredients and thus avoid being arrested because the drug didn’t fit the law’s definition.
“There were drugs waiting for the law to be enacted so they could then introduce those new ones,” said Gastia. “We knew it would raise havoc and it did.”
“All they have to do is change one ingredient,” said Ross, explaining the way around the previous law. “And now it’s not covered by that law. This law, the way I understand it, even if it’s slightly modified, it’s still illegal.”
Both Gastia and Ross said the problem of bath salts has not decreased in Maine, but rather has plateaued, which isn’t a good thing.
“[The drugs are] still out there, but we’re not seeing an increase in incidents. We’re not seeing a decrease, either,” said Gastia.
Gastia applauded Maine’s new law, but he said federal legislation is also needed.
“Maine law will help on the street dealer side, but it doesn’t help on the importation,” said Gastia. “We need to be able to go after the sellers, exporters, importers, etc. The only way we can do that is through federal legislation.”
Even with the new law, Gastia warns that bath salts won’t become a thing of the past.
“The drugs are still out there. We’re going to continue seeing those bizarre cases,” said Gastia, referring to the extreme behavior exhibited by some people under the influence of bath salts. “We never got rid of cocaine. No matter what kind of drastic measure we have, it’s not going to put this to bed.”
The new law will take effect 90 days from Monday.