Bath salts, in this case synthetic cocaine, are part of a new and highly dangerous generation of drugs that have begun to make an appearance locally.
If East Bridgewater Detective Michael Jenkins catches a suspect in town with the dangerous synthetic drug known as “bath salts,” he can’t criminally charge the person.
Jenkins said his only recourse is to cite the suspect with a misdemeanor under Massachusetts public health law, and issue a fine of $50 to $100.
This is despite a federal law signed by President Barack Obama on July 9 that outlaws synthetic drugs, including some chemicals found in bath salts.
“Our hands are kind of tied,” Jenkins said Monday. “Even though there’s a federal ban, state and local authorities have no jurisdiction over federal law. We’re not federal law enforcement officers.”
State lawmakers are hoping to change that.
For several months, lawmakers including state Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, and state Rep. George Ross, R-Attleboro, have been pushing for a state ban of bath salts. Keenan said he wants to make bath salts illegal in Massachusetts to avoid any ambiguities that may arise from different interpretations of the federal law.
“We need the same course of action here at the state level, that it’s made clear that in Massachusetts these substances are banned, that they’re not on the shelves,” Keenan said.
The ban was tacked on to another Senate bill co-authored by Keenan to monitor prescriptions for opiate painkillers. Ross first sponsored the bill to make bath salts a controlled substance after several constituents approached him.
Ross and Keenan are among state lawmakers who hope the bill passes before the end of the legislative session tonight.
“It’s very important,” Ross said. “I had a lot of people backing me up on it, law enforcement, health officials, parents of kids who were addicted.”
Bath salts, which are synthetic psychoactive drugs, have grown tremendously in popularity in recent years, sold under names such as “Spice” or “Vanilla Sky” in head shops, smoke shops and convenience stores.
On Thursday, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced it had seized more than $36 million in cash and arrested 91 people in a nationwide crackdown on synthetic drugs including bath salts and fake marijuana. Five million packets of synthetic drugs were seized.
Jenkins said that without a state ban “it is almost impossible” to enforce the new federal law in Massachusetts, unless it’s a collaborative effort with federal authorities on larger drug cases.
And local police expect to see more of it.
“We’re kind of bracing ourselves for it. It’s almost like the calm before the storm,” said West Bridgewater police Sgt. Tim Nixon, also a member of the WEB Major Crimes and Drug Task Force.
The drugs are considered so dangerous that in December, Abington police charged a local man with attempted manslaughter for selling them.
Jenkins, of East Bridgewater police, also said the federal law is a good start, but it “will not dramatically curb use of bath salts.”
“These drugs are constantly changing and the manufacturers will make a small chemical alteration to their formulas and they won’t fall under the law,” Jenkins said.