Reinert co-sponsors Minnesota bill against synthetic drugsThe House version of the bill, which Police Chief Gordon Ramsay testified on last week, would broaden language that would ban sales of synthetic drug analogs — compounds similar to the ones already banned by state and federal law.
State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, is co-sponsoring legislation that backers hope will bring an end to synthetic drug sales in Minnesota, including at the Last Place on Earth.
The House version of the bill, which Police Chief Gordon Ramsay testified on last week, would broaden language that would ban sales of synthetic drug analogs — compounds similar to the ones already banned by state and federal law.
In the past, bans of specific compounds used in synthetic drugs simply prompted manufacturers to tweak the drugs to keep them legal, said Duluth Police Lt. Steve Stracek.
“This would ban any synthetic cannabinoid and their analogs,” Stracek said.
While there is already a law against selling analogs in Minnesota, it has essentially been ignored by sellers like Carlson, who have challenged it by arguing that it’s too vague and the compounds they sell can’t be identified as analogs.
The new law would “broaden the language of how we accept an analog,” Stracek said. “It broadens our ability to name a specific compound as an analog. … We need to make sure that our experts and analysts are able to identify items as analogs, and that it can stand up in court.”
The proposed law would also make selling analogs a felony punishable with up to five years in prison. Currently, the punishment for selling analogs is a gross misdemeanor, which Ramsay said isn’t stiff enough.
“This passed in the legislatures in Kansas and Missouri,” Reinert said, “and after the law went into effect, it pretty much wiped synthetic drug sales off the map.”
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said he’s skeptical that the law could have that kind of effect in Minnesota.
“It depends on if legislators can make the language broad enough to cover analogs,” he said. “There’s still a question on that.”
The challenge, Rubin added, is that criminal statutes have to be strictly interpreted. If the analog law is too broad, “it can be challenged,” Rubin said. “That’s the challenge the Legislature has.”
Last Place owner Jim Carlson said if the law is passed, he’d follow his attorney’s advice on whether he’d still sell synthetic drugs, or what he calls incense. But he said he and other head shops in the state would fight the law. Carlson’s attorney, Randall Tigue, could not be reached for comment.
“The law states that anything that stimulates the brain is illegal in Minnesota,” Carlson said. “I just can’t believe that.”
Gonzalo Martinez said he goes to Last Place every day to pick up some No Name, one of a variety of synthetics that could be illegal to obtain under the strengthened state law.
“That would be a drag,” Martinez said as he waited in line at the store. He said it’s much safer to get the products at Last Place than with a dealer.
Others in line chimed in, but didn’t want to be named.
“It’s less hassle,” one man said of getting marijuana from a store instead of a dealer. “You don’t have to worry about getting ripped off.”
Carlson said sales of synthetics at the Last Place are stronger than ever, saying “thousands of people a day” are buying the products from his store.
“There are places all over the state and all over the county selling this product and not having any problems with it,” Carlson said.
Research has shown that synthetic drugs are more potent than actual marijuana, and anecdotally there have been reports locally and across the country of synthetic drug users reporting to poison control centers and emergency rooms with problems including paranoid behavior, hallucinations, vomiting, seizures, racing heartbeats and death.
“Those aren’t reactions consistent with marijuana use,” Stracek said. “It’s consistent with cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines.”
As for whether the legislation will pass this year, Reinert said the bill appears to have bipartisan support — it was introduced in the Senate by Warren Limmer, a Republican and chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee — and will get a hearing in his committee next week. Duluth Police Chief Ramsay will likely be asked to testify again, this time in front of the Senate, Reinert said.
If the bill can make it out of the first committee, Reinert said it has a good chance to be approved by both chambers.
“Chairs don’t usually put a bill up unless it’s going to pass,” Reinert said.