Ban on sale of “lookalike” drugs advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 7 to a bill that would ban certain synthetic drugs.

LB1009, introduced by Gothenberg Sen. Matt Williams, would ban the sale and marketing of “lookalike” substances. Williams said the bill is intended to prevent sales of a harmful and illegal synthetic drug called K2, which often is sold in deceptive packaging to skirt the law.

There were 120 emergency room visits related to K2 in Lincoln last year, Williams said.

“There has been frustration because each year we bring legislation that changes the banned chemical compounds. As soon as we do that, someone [finds out] what the compound is and manufactures a new version,” he said. “This may not be a silver bullet but it gives us the tools to get [K2 products] off the shelves and keep them off the shelves.”

The bill would define a lookalike substance as one that is not specifically categorized as a controlled substance but possesses one or more of the following characteristics:
• packaging or labeling that suggests a user would achieve euphoria, hallucination, mood enhancement or stimulation that mimics those of a controlled substance;
• images or labels that suggest it is a controlled substance;
• disproportionately high pricing; or
• warning labels suggesting compliance with state and federal law regulating controlled substances.

A person who knowingly offers, displays, markets, or sells a lookalike substance would be guilty of a Class IV felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment with 12 months probation, a $10,000 fine or both.

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 28-0, added an emergency clause as well as a severability clause, which means that if one part of the bill were declared to be unconstitutional, the remaining parts of the bill would not be impacted.

Omaha Sen. Nicole Fox spoke in support of the bill. She said it would help to curb the manufacture of K2, which is easily accessible to youth and adults alike.

“We can send a clear message to the manufacturers that we won’t stand idly by while they continue to [evade] the law and put Nebraskans at risk,” she said.

LB1009 also classifies the production, distribution and sale of certain lookalike substances as violations of the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Each individual package would be considered a separate violation. The bill would not restrict the ability of scientific experts to use synthetic substances for investigative purposes.

The bill advanced to select file on a 35-0 vote.

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