Agency backs bills focused on imitation drugs

DES MOINES – A state agency is backing measures introduced Tuesday that would make carrying even small amounts of drug-like substances a felony and target sellers who don’t pay taxes.

Steven Lukan, director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said Tuesday that one measure would focus on imitation drugs, such as synthetic cannabis and bath salts. The proposal would make it a Class D felony to carry one gram or more of such substances.

Class D felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine.

Rita Bettis a lobbyist from the American Civil Liberties Union argued the bill proposes too low of a threshold to charge anyone carrying one gram of the substances with a felony.

“We hope this would be used in key instances to go after retailers selling synthetic drugs and make big disincentives to deal these substances,” Lukan said.

Lukan says another bill would increase the tax on marijuana and imitation drugs. Though not legal, sellers of marijuana still must pay taxes, though the Department of Revenue rarely presses charges against drug dealers.

It creates a $400 tax penalty on imitation drugs and increases tax penalties on marijuana to $8 per gram, $1,200 per marijuana plant, and $640 per ten doses of other controlled substances.

Since Iowa introduced the drug tax stamp in the 1990s, only one person has been convicted of failing to pay it. Lukan said he hopes raising the penalty will encourage law enforcement to use it more.

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, supports the bill and will see it through to committee.

“This is not a tax issue. It’s a public safety issue,” he said. “I see kids walk across the street from high school getting drugs. … The conversation around this is, how do we keep our youth safe?”