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Egan bill would 'close a loophole' in drug law

Loosens definition of 'imitation controlled substance'

Posted: March 2, 2013 - 9:19pm  |  Updated: March 3, 2013 - 12:17am

A bill introduced by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, on Wednesday could enable police to crack down on individuals selling fake drugs.

Lt. Kris Sell of the Juneau Police Department said the JPD, with the support of other law enforcement agencies around the state, asked Egan to introduce Senate Bill 66, would would remove a list of specific chemical compounds — including acetaminophen, caffeine and psuedoephedrine, among others — from the state’s definition of “imitation controlled substances,” which are illegal to produce or distribute in Alaska.

As currently written, state law defines an imitation controlled substance as a non-controlled substance containing one of the specified compounds and made out to look like a drug.

Lee Phelps, a narcotics detective with the JPD whom Sell credited with the idea for the bill, said the department is seeking to “close a loophole” created by requiring the imitation controlled substance to contain one or more of the chemical compounds in order to meet the legal definition.

“What we did is tried to be less restrictive on that, on the definition,” Phelps explained Friday.

Phelps and Sell said undercover police in Juneau had bought “drugs” from dealers, only to find themselves unable to charge the sellers with a crime after discovering what was purported to be heroin was brown sugar dissolved in teriyaki sauce, or that the supposed methamphetamine was actually table salt.

“Those items are not listed in the definition of what ‘controlled substance’ is currently,” said Phelps.

“What we found is that known drug dealers that we had purchased drugs from in the past sometimes sell fake drugs,” Sell said. “And their customers don’t go complain to anybody.”

Phelps said he came up with the idea to change the law after being frustrated earlier this year in pursuing a “drug” dealer whose product turned out to be a fake.

The detective, who started his police career in Oklahoma City, Okla., said he wants to bring Alaska’s laws more in line with those of many other states.

From what Egan has heard, the problem with fake drugs goes beyond Juneau, the senator said Friday.

“It’s not just JPD,” Egan said. “It’s statewide this stuff is happening.”

S.B. 66 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Egan said he has already requested a hearing on the bill.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said Friday afternoon that he has not yet spoken to Egan about the proposed legislation.

“At this point, I’m open to the discussion,” said Coghill. “Beyond that, I haven’t heard pros and cons, and so every once in a while, my mind changes. So I’ll just give it what I would consider a fair hearing.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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