- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska will once again expand its ban on synthetic drugs under a new state law, but the fight isn’t over for those who say it doesn’t go far enough.

The law targets the newest generation of synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana. It was passed on the final day of this year’s legislative session and signed by Gov. Dave Heineman last week.

Despite the 46-0 vote by lawmakers, the final product disappointed Steve Tucker, whose 18-year-old son, Billy, died in October from an overdose of “K2,” a form of synthetic marijuana. Deputies say Billy Tucker drank alcohol and smoked the synthetic marijuana while partying in Lincoln, and then decided to take a nap at a friend’s home in Waverly. He never woke up. Deputies found a package of “Scooby Snax Potpourri” and a pipe in the teen’s pocket.

Steve Tucker, of Greenwood, said the new Nebraska law bans chemicals that have already surfaced in Nebraska. But he said it does nothing to stop similar substances that have been developed recently in eastern Europe and are likely to reach Nebraska in the future. Tucker said he tried to get the newer ingredients included in the law, but was ignored.

“Instead of being proactive, we’re going to be reactive,” he said. “I’m very frustrated. We’re going to have to wait another year now to add these formulas, when we had them here in our hands.”

Nebraska has outlawed different versions of synthetic drugs, including K2 and bath salts, but drug manufacturers keep changing their chemical formulas to skirt drug laws. Most of the drugs are manufactured in Asia, and many originated from chemical formulas cited in scientific research papers. The drugs started showing up in the Midwest in 2009 and have been sold at tobacco and head shops disguised as incense.

Newer generations of the drugs are legal and can be bought online. The drugs can cause hallucinations, high blood pressure, rapid heart rates and seizures.

The measure considered by lawmakers was watered down amid concerns that the proposed penalties were too severe, said its sponsor, Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala. Schilz said he wasn’t thrilled with the final changes, but without them, the bill likely wouldn’t have moved out of committee.

“It didn’t go as far as we wanted,” Schilz said. “We’ll just have to go at it again next year.”

The bill drew opposition from defense attorneys, who argued that the punishments were too severe, and from Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. Chambers argued that outlawing the new compounds each year was pointless and could lead to unintentional bans on chemicals that serve a legitimate, legal purpose.

Chambers noted that strychnine - a common rat poison - isn’t prohibited. Neither is aspirin, he said, but the pain medicine can cause stomach bleeding for a small number of patients.

The original measure, part of Attorney General Jon Bruning’s legislative package, would have expanded Nebraska’s current ban to include the newest generation of chemicals that are used to make synthetic drugs.

It also would have increased penalties. Current state law allows for misdemeanor charges for anyone caught making, distributing, delivering or possessing the drug. The bill would have allowed prosecutors to charge repeat offenders with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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The bill is LB811