The Legislature did the right thing this year when it made Maine one of the first states in the nation to outlaw the drug marketed as “bath salts.”

The law, however, doesn’t go far enough. Police have the power to fine people who possess or use the designer drug, which is available through online dealers, but using or selling it can result in jail time only in the case of repeat offenses.

This drug is as dangerous or more dangerous than other substances that can land a lawbreaker in jail on the first offense.

Putting this drug in a different category sends a confusing message, particularly since it is marketed on the Internet, unlike other substances such as heroin and methamphetamine, which are controlled drugs under federal law.

Bath salts were unheard of two years ago but have created many public safety problems in Maine.

Last month, a naked woman was rescued from a sewer pipe into which she had crawled in Waterville while under the influence of bath salts. A Bangor man died in police custody after telling officers that he was high on bath salts.

Emergency room professionals report seeing young people who are brought in under the drug’s influence in a deeply disturbed state.

The federal government should catch up with this and other new chemicals on the market. Penalties, including jail time, should be beefed up to keep the punishment in proportion to the danger.

Maine took the right first step, but it should be seen as just the first step to respond to this new drug.

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