State lawmakers on Monday took another step to ban the possession and sale of a synthetic stimulant known as bath salts, in addition to other so-called designer drugs, synthetic marijuana and a hallucinogen called 2-Ce. The proposed legislation calls for fines of up to $15,000 and jail time for violators.

The state House of Representatives unanimously approved the legislation, Senate Bill 1006. The proposed bill now heads back to the Senate for final approval, then to Gov. Tom Corbett, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Elder Vogel, a Republican whose legislative district includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.

Locally, state Sen. David G. Argall, who co-sponsored Vogel's bill, said he is happy with the bill's progress.

"I'm thankful to see Senator Vogel's legislation to ban bath salts pass in the House," he said. "In the midst of a difficult budget year, I think we have all seen enough devastating headlines to make banning this synthetic drug a priority. With many families across our region and state affected by this drug, I am hopeful that this legislation will prevent future tragedies from occurring."

Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Lower Paxton), majority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that "people who have witnessed the effects of these substances have been begging us to immediately address this growing problem.

"This legislation would do just that," said Marsico. "Those who prey on our residents would no longer be able to do so without serious repercussions. Their first offense for possession with the intent to deliver or delivery would result in five years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Simple possession of these substances would be a misdemeanor and give them a $5,000 fine and a maximum of one year in prison. On second and subsequent violations, the maximum fine and penalty doubles. As you can see, those who have no regard for the well-being of others will finally be held accountable with the enactment of this legislation."

Increasing numbers of violent and bizarre behavior have been attributed to the drug, which contain 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, and mephedrone, chemicals that mimic the effect of illegal stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine.

On March 24, John Eremus, 46, of Nesquehoning, held police at bay for two hours with a high-powered rifle after ingesting bath salts. Earlier that month, another bath salts user, Ryan Foley, 25, of West Scranton, allegedly broke into a monastery and stabbed a priest in the hand and the face after using the drug. In February, Seth Thomas Sanders, 31, of Elizabethtown, in a bath salts fueled state of paranoia, believed his car was melting and that electricity was chasing him. He allegedly broke into an East Hanover Township home and damaged a marked state police cruiser in his terror.

Emergency room staff have had to cope with paranoid, violent and hallucinating patients admitted after using bath salts. The drug can cause rapid heart rates, surging blood pressure and hallucinations. Packaged in small containers labeled with languid, dreamy names like "Tranquillity," Blue Silk" and Ivory Wave," these bath salts have nothing to do with the skin-softening powders meant to be poured into one's bath water.

Instead, the drugs are marketed as bath salts by their makers in order to skirt drug laws. They are commonly sold in tattoo parlors, truck stops, "head shops" and gas stations.

Although the synthetic drugs are currently legal, some local governments, including Schuylkill County, have moved to ban them. On May 28, the county made it illegal to sell or distribute bath salts. Pottsville city council on Monday took that move a step further, and banned the manufacture or sale of bath salts, imposing penalties that could include a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail.