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New bill would close loopholes for synthetic drugs

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A loophole in Florida law concerning synthetic drugs is likely to be closed thanks to a bill awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature. If signed into law, the bill will take effect in October of this year.

Earlier this year, Scott declared the opiate crisis in Florida a public health emergency. His declaration was largely a response to synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are linked to a large portion of the nearly 4,000 annual opiate-related deaths in the state.

“Ten to 12 people per day are dying across this state,” Sen. Darryl Rouson said.

The new controlled substance act would increase penalties on traffickers of fentanyl and carfentanyl along with synthetic versions of marijuana and benzodiazepines, which are sedatives. Dealers have been making slight changes to the chemical makeup of synthetic drugs to sidestep the law.

“Every year, we have another bill to deal with the latest form of the drug that's being shipped and killing our Floridians,” Rep. Jim Boyd said.

The act would make a wide range of substances illegal to close the loophole.

“This hopefully will encompass a broader range of those changes that they make to drugs, so enforcement will be a lot easier,” Boyd said.

The bill also includes mandatory minimum sentences for possession of large quantities synthetic drugs, which some lawmakers find problematic.

The issue was debated heavily in both chambers. Sen. Jeff Brandes argued judges should have discretion in seeking minimum mandatory sentences.

“Let them look at the facts of the case,” Brandes said. “Let them look at the individual facts and make a decision about what the correct sentence should be.”

The debate revived interest among lawmakers to take a serious look at minimum mandatories for other drugs next year.