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DES MOINES | The Iowa Senate voted 27-23 Tuesday to approve tougher penalties for synthetic drugs or imitation controlled substances.

But senators altered a House-passed bill with other drug-related changes that could jeopardize the bill’s trek to Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk.

The bill is a comprehensive effort to stem the sales of synthetic and counterfeit drugs and ensure people who sell them can be criminally charged, proponents said.

“These drugs are a public health issue resulting in numerous emergency room visits, hospitalizations and sometimes deaths to persons who use them,” said Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center.

However, a number of senators who supported the House-passed version voted against the measure after an amendment was attached that seeks to move marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II controlled substance; make possession of five grams or less of marijuana a simple misdemeanor rather than a serious misdemeanor; bring penalties for crack and powder cocaine more in line with each other without reducing the penalties; and give judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences in some drug cases.

The amendment passed 26-24 when Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, joined 25 majority Democrats while Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, voted with 23 GOP senators in opposition.

Mathis voted for the bill on final passage but said she opposed the amendment out of concern it might stall a bill important to her constituents.

“Let’s pass a clean bill and send it to the governor,” said Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola. “We can deal with these other issues in other bills. I’m reluctant this late in the session to be perhaps even jeopardizing the bill by adding these controversial amendments.”

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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