JEFFERSON CITY — Synthetic drugs mimicking the effects of cocaine and marijuana that often are marketed as incense or "bath salts" would be outlawed in Missouri under legislation given final approval Tuesday.
The bill marks Missouri's second attempt in as many years to curtail synthetic drugs.
A law enacted last year banned possession of one type of synthetic marijuana, called spice cannabinoids, which are sprayed on plants and sold as incense known by the name K2. But another form of synthetic marijuana with a different chemical formula, known as K3, went on the market soon after that legislation was passed.
This year's legislation seeks to ban that newest alternative drug by expanding the definition of marijuana in state drug laws to include synthetic forms. It also seeks to outlaw synthetic drugs being marketed as "bath salts" which the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, says can act similar to cocaine by speeding up people's heart rates and causing them to hallucinate and become violent.
The House passed the legislation 143-13, sending it to Gov. Jay Nixon. The bill previously passed the Senate.
Law enforcement officials told legislators earlier this year that the drugs are being sold as "bath salts" to avoid detection by federal regulators and law enforcement officials.
Unlike actual bath salts, which resemble small colorful rocks and are sold in large canisters, the drugs are a white or light brown powder sold in small packets to people who ask for it by codenames like "Sunshine." A 250-milligram package of the substance usually costs about $27 at smoke shops or convenience stores, while a much larger container of actual bath salts can be purchased at retail stores for about $4.
The law enforcement officials said they have seen a marked increase in the use of the "bath salt" drugs, and a similar increase in the number of injuries and deaths related to those artificial drugs.
Franz said Tuesday that the substances should be banned because, unlike actual bath salts, they are not used for anything except as drugs.
"None of these things are useful in any other way to society," he said.
The changes attracted little opposition in the House, but Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said outlawing the synthetic drugs could hurt businesses that also sell products like pipes and flavored tobacco.
"It once again tells stores that we're taking these products away and that they should stop selling them and stop paying sales tax on them," he said.
Rep. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, said the synthetic substances need to be outlawed to discourage teenagers from experimenting with them as a less expensive way to get the same "high" of marijuana.
"We've got a lot of young people out there who are misled and this stuff is nothing more than a poison," he said.