Synthetic drugs investigation follow-up: With some banned ingredients, why are fake pot sales allowed?Local law enforcement officials say stronger penalties and the ability to field-test products are needed to better enforce a state law that bans versions of synthetic drugs.
Local law enforcement officials say stronger penalties and the ability to field-test products are needed to better enforce a state law that bans versions of synthetic drugs.
A Monday News Tribune article reported on the testing of four synthetic marijuana products bought from the Last Place on Earth in Duluth. MedTox Laboratories of Minneapolis found that all four contained “AM-2201,” a substance described as an analog of a banned chemical compound used in synthetic marijuana. Minnesota banned the sale of analogs earlier this year as a way to keep up with synthetic drug-makers who tweak their formulas after bans of specific chemicals.
Despite the ban on analogs, the Last Place on Earth continues to sell the synthetic drugs. Store owner Jim Carlson has filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, saying it’s too broad and would prohibit the sale of products such as sodas and coffee.
Duluth Police Lt. Steve Stracek said one of the difficulties in enforcing the ban is that it makes selling synthetic marijuana a gross misdemeanor, whereas selling real marijuana is a felony. He said making the sale of synthetics a felony would increase the potential for jail or prison time and provide for higher financial penalties.
“I believe you’d see a higher degree of accountability,” said Stracek, who also is commander of the Lake Superior Gang and Drug Task Force. “I believe it would make it more of a deterrent.”
Many experts quoted in the Monday article said synthetic marijuana is stronger and more dangerous than natural marijuana. Given that, said Jon Hollets, an assistant St. Louis County attorney, laws banning synthetic drug sales “are not harsh enough.”
The laws governing analog sales also don’t take into account the volume of sales — making it the same penalty if the Last Place on Earth sells one vial of synthetics or hundreds, Hollets said.
Hollets said his office could prosecute each sale, “but then you have to prove each individual case.”
Due to the nature of the synthetics, police also don’t have probable cause to arrest someone seen selling or smoking it.
Unlike drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, Stracek said there are no field tests to identify synthetics. Police test the synthetics through the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which might not be able to deliver a result for weeks. By that time, the seller might use a different chemical compound that’s not a known analog.
Tony Cornish, who is chairman of the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Safety Committee, which drafted the analog law, said no one from the law enforcement arena has told him that the statute is too weak.
But he said he’s willing to change it.
“I feel strongly about closing (the Last Place on Earth) and other shops like it down,” he said. “But the problem is, it’s hard to come up with a catch-all, to say that anything that messes with your head is illegal.”
Duluth Deputy Police Chief Mike Tusken said his department’s investigation into the Last Place on Earth “is not over by any stretch,” and he said he envisions a day when the business will no longer be able to sell synthetic marijuana.
“We’re working in earnest to resolve this every day,” he said.