Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- A Senate panel is now debating a bill that would criminalize ‘roofying’ someone, or slipping drugs into someone’s drink without their consent or knowledge, after the bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously. 

Under current law, putting drugs in someone’s drink without their consent isn’t a crime in Montana. Rep. Alice Buckley, D-Bozeman, is the sponsor of House Bill 457, which would change that. She said Montanans need ground to stand on in the eyes of the law so they can press charges if they’ve been drugged. 

“And they're not necessarily getting sexually assaulted, but they are ending up in the hospital or they're ending up unconscious. So the intention of this bill was to say it is an assault to put something in someone else's drink. Or knowingly, purposefully provide someone else that inhibits their ability to take care of themselves. It's a violation of our autonomy in the most basic sense,” Buckley said. 

There were eight proponents at the hearing representing law enforcement, advocacy groups and survivors. Laura Michael-Owens represented the Associated Students of Montana State University. She said college students are more likely to get roofied than other demographics. 

“We are resilient and try to keep ourselves and each other safe, but bills like this enhance the legal protections that people have access to and are so important to addressing this problem. As a young woman at a university, many of my friends have experienced this issue, and I personally have been a victim of date rape drugs. This is not an issue that can wait any longer to be addressed,” Michael-Owens said. 

There were no opponents at the hearing, but Jennifer Hensley, who previously opposed the bill in the House representing Missoula County, spoke as a proponent this time. She said crucial amendments have been made to the bill that expand the number of drugs that would qualify a case as criminal. The original bill listed three drugs.

“In the County, Missoula, as you know, we also have a large university and unfortunately our prosecutors and law enforcement officers way too often have to see these circumstances. And so what typically happens when one person wants to harm another person through incapacitation is -- it's a combination of things, not just those three specifics that are mentioned in this bill. So we really do appreciate the amendment that the house placed on it,” Hensley said. 

According to a 2022 report from the Montana Kaimin, the University of Montana’s independent student-run paper, cases of roofying reported to the Student Advocacy Resource Center on campus were five times higher in the first two months of 2022 than it usually is for a whole semester