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Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol is seen on June 19, 2012, in Springfield.

TAYLORVILLE — Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp says a new state law banning retailers from selling synthetic drugs known as “bath salts” will be an important tool for law enforcement in combating substances that have become a scourge to rural communities like his.

“With this law, we’re going to be able to go after the retailers, and it’ll help us tremendously,” the sheriff said. “It’s been very frustrating for us in law enforcement dealing with the problem with bath salts because these chemists are out in front of us.”

Kettelkamp joined Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday at the Christian County Courthouse in Taylorville as the governor signed the bill creating the ban. Effective Jan. 1, it will be a Class 3 felony, publishable by a fine of up to $150,000, to sell or offer for sale “any synthetic or natural material containing any quantity of a cathinone chemical structure.” The law also will allow local governments to revoke the licenses of retailers who are convicted of a violation.

Synthetic cathinones are stimulants that are chemically similar to a controlled substance found in the khat plant and have been sold at retailers such as adult stores, independent convenience stores and head shops, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center. They are typically packaged to look like normal consumer products, hence the nickname “bath salts.”

As Kettelkamp alluded to, those manufacturing the drugs have eluded authorities by slightly altering the chemical compounds in the drugs.

“This law that we’re signing today helps law enforcement get after the broad category of these cathinones and gets after the labeling — the false, misleading labeling — that can go on these compounds at retailers so we can try to put an end to the ready availability of these very dangerous, very lethal drugs,” Rauner said.

Joining Rauner at the bill-signing event were state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, and state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who sponsored the bill in their respective chambers.

Bourne called the measure “the first small step” toward addressing an issue that is plaguing communities in her district.

“We will have to continue to stay up on it, continue to hear from our law enforcement on how we can help them at the state level to combat this and help the people not only of Christian County but across the state,” she said.

Manar thanked Christian County State’s Attorney Mike Havera for helping bring the issue to his and Bourne’s attention and for drafting the legislation.

“This is something that’s going to continue, but this bill is another tool in the toolbox for law enforcement officials across the state to combat this growing crisis,” he said.

Alec Laird, manager of government affairs for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the new law “doesn’t really impact our members,” who don’t sell the targeted products.

Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, said the new law may keep novice users from getting their hands on cathinones at a retail establishment but most likely won’t cut off the supply.

“People who are looking for bath salts or cathinones will purchase them online,” she said, adding that those purchased online may be more potent than what’s available in stores.

“Sometimes when you control one thing, you actually get something that’s worse in its place,” Kane-Willis said.

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