House approves synthetic drug bill

K2 SpiceBy Bob Eschliman


After a short debate over whether or not “the hammer” was too big or too small, the Iowa House of Representatives voted Tuesday to adopt a bill that significantly toughens state laws with regard to synthetic drugs, like K2, a synthetic form of marijuana also referred to as “Spice.”

House File 567 also modifies the lists of drugs under Schedule I, Schedule III, and Schedule IV of the controlled substances provisions of Iowa Code. It also allows the General Assembly up to two years – instead of the current 60 days – to act upon a temporary controlled substance designation made by the Iowa Pharmacy Board.

Those elements of the bill were not disputed by any member of the chamber. The elements that drew concern from legislators, as well as “no” votes on its final passage, dealt entirely with enhanced penalties for the sale of synthetic drugs.

Currently, those who are prosecuted for selling synthetic drugs face an aggravated misdemeanor conviction, which could result in a maximum jail sentence of two years. Under FH 567, however, the penalties are enhanced to Class B or C felonies, which result in prison sentences of up to 25 or 10 years, respectively.

State Rep. Mary Lynn Wolfe (D-Clinton) said she was concerned that existing legislation with regard to synthetic drugs in Iowa Code 124A were not being used by county prosecutors. She noted there had been fewer than 20 convictions in recent years.

“If this is such a problem, do we really need a bigger tool?” she asked. “Why haven’t [county attorneys] been using the tool we gave them years ago?”

Wolfe said HF 567, as it has been proposed, would disparately impact minorities, who accounted for more than half of the convictions under the current Iowa Imitation Controlled Substances Act. She urged her colleagues to vote down the bill and await a “better version” from the Senate.

State Rep. Ken Rizer (R-Cedar Rapids), the author of the bill, said he crafted the bill on behalf of the parents of Sgt. Jerrald Meek, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran who committed suicide after a long battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and a two-year addiction to the synthetic drug known as K2. He said the bill closely mirrors an ordinance adopted by the City of Cedar Rapids – Meek’s hometown – that no longer addressed synthetic drugs based on their composition, but rather on their intended effects.

“[K2] was too widely available, and prosecutors were unable to prosecute because the formulations they were seeing didn’t match up with what was in the code,” Rizer said. “Passing this bill won’t bring Sgt. Meek back, but it will mean he didn’t die in vain.”

State Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids), who represents the Meek family, thanked Rizer for his work on the bill, and for Wolfe’s comments, and said he also had concerns about the scope of the bill. His primary concern was for convenience store clerks who sell the product and don’t fully understand what it is they are doing, but could still be sentenced to an indeterminate 10-year prison term.

He urged his colleagues to pass the bill and deal with those concerns in conference committee over the Senate version. The bill was ultimately adopted on an 83-13 vote.

The House also adopted the following bills on unanimous, our nearly unanimous, votes:

  • House File 347 – an act to place all preschool programs administered by and for public school systems under the purview of the Iowa Department of Human Services, adopted 95-0.
  • House File 371 – an act to allow radon test results to be shared with a home’s prospective buyer under specific conditions, adopted 95-0.
  • House File 372 – an act to exempt court-appointed special advocates from confidentiality provisions of child protection laws as they relate to children in foster care, adopted 95-0.
  • House File 414 – an act to require disclosures by private veteran service corporations regarding free services provided by veteran organizations and county offices of veterans affairs, adopted 96-0.
  • Senate File 134 – a substitute bill for House File 492 – an act to exempt wine manufacturers bonded for Class A liquor control licenses from being required to be bonded for a wine direct shipping license, approved 96-0.
  • House File 510 – an act to allow mental health regions to enter into agreements with private contractors to transport substance abuse and mental health patients, approved 95-1.
  • House File 515 – an act to allow mediation and arbitration costs and associated legal fees to the costs that may be covered by the district management levy, approved 96-0.
  • House File 525 – an act to allow veterinary professional limited liability companies and veterinary partnerships to perform veterinary services, adopted 96-0.
  • House File 535 – an act to make nonsubstantitive changes to Iowa Code, adopted 96-0.
  • House File 536 – an act to make substantive changes to Iowa Code, adopted 95-0.
  • Senate File 440 – a substitute bill for House File 551 – an act to allow mental health regions to contract with out-of-state providers for substance abuse and mental health services, adopted 95-0.
  • House File 570 – exempts “recreational activities” rather than a list of many activities from municipal tort liability laws, adopted 95-0.
  • House File 578 – allows subjects of DNR investigations to be present during inspections, adopted 95-0.