A state Senate committee approved legislation Thursday that would gives state officials more power to ban some synthetic drugs without lawmakers’ approval.
The Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted unanimously to pass on a bill that gives the Department of Health and Environmental Control board the power to declare an “emergency ban” on a substance. The ban would be permanent unless the General Assembly voted to overturn the ban.
The bill now heads to the full Senate.
State Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) said the idea is to give the agency the ability to ban new drug compounds as soon as they appear, instead of waiting months for the legislature to act.
“The chemistry is outrunning us,” Peeler told South Carolina Radio Network, “They change the ingredients in it once we make it against the law.”
Under current law, the DHEC board could only pass an emergency regulation if legislators were out of session. Even then, legislators still have to approve the ban once they return.
The issue surfaced when state health officials wanted to ban synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” last fall, but lacked the means to do so until the federal Drugs Enforcement Administration banned those substances nationwide. Health experts say those compounds are often more dangerous than the cocaine and marijuana they are meant to emulate.
Before the federal ban, “children could buy (bath salts),” Peeler said “And it would totally change their personality. It would make them violent.”
The bill lists over 100 chemicals that could be controlled; meaning thousands of possible combinations would conceivably be covered by the emergency regulations. Most notably, the list includes “synthetic cannabinoids,” which could cover a wide range of chemical compounds.
Peeler says he hopes the legislation will allow DHEC to stop new synthetic drugs from emerging– at least for a few years. “We’re ahead of the chemistry now with this bill,” he said, “But what’s coming down the road? Time will tell.”