Concerned citizens pack Duluth hearing on synthetic drugsWell over a hundred people packed a conference room at the Sheraton Hotel and spilled over into a second room on Friday with a uniform message for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson: Duluth desperately needs her help taking on synthetic drugs and the downtown business known for selling them.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Well over a hundred people packed a conference room at the Sheraton Hotel and spilled over into a second room on Friday with a uniform message for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson: Duluth desperately needs her help taking on synthetic drugs and the downtown business known for selling them.
“I’m fighting for my life down there,” said Dean Baltes, whose business, ShelDon, is next door to the head shop Last Place On Earth on the 100 block of East Superior Street. “We need some relief. A year from now doesn’t cut it.”
Baltes was among more than two dozen people who testified during a four-hour hearing in front of Swanson, members of her staff, other state officials and a special legislative committee led by state Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth.
The subject was what to do about what Swanson called “this terrible venom” of synthetic drugs in general and the Last Place On Earth in particular.
Contacted by the News Tribune after the hearing, store owner Jim Carlson said he tried to attend but was turned away because both rooms were full when he arrived.
A spokesman for Swanson said between 180 and 190 people attended the afternoon hearing.
Swanson told the crowd that the state understands the problem. She pointed to the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy announced last September, the Violent Crime Coordinating Council appointed to fight drug crimes, and the power given the state Board of Pharmacy to quickly declare substances illegal. Simonson’s committee will recommend additional remedies for the Legislature to consider next year, she said. And she reminded the audience that Carlson, his girlfriend, his son and a former employee face trial in September on a 54-count federal indictment on controlled-substance charges.
Although respectful, the Duluth crowd had little patience for what might be coming down the road.
“September is too far off for us,” said Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council.
Among those who testified about the effects of the substances:
The bath salts he took cost $30, she said. “The cost of my son losing his sanity and his peace of mind? More than I can bear.”
He chronicled a case of one schizophrenic patient under the influence of alcohol and bath salts who removed one of his eyes with a fork and stabbed his remaining eye four times. Another patient, a young man who became agitated while using synthetic marijuana, “proceeded to dig out several of his own teeth with his fingers,” Van Deelen said.
“We have one blighted property that is really affecting the quality of life of our city,” Tusken said.
Fanning also complained that Swanson hadn’t consulted with the city about the time for the hearing and said both Mayor Don Ness and Police Chief Gordon Ramsay would have liked to attend but had unavoidable commitments.
Swanson later said it would be “hard to schedule it to meet everybody’s schedule,” but noted that officials from eight state agencies and seven legislators attended, along with police officers from as far away as Moorhead.
Carlson, in his phone conversation with the News Tribune, was unapologetic when asked about the comments at the hearing. He said some of his customers misuse the substances they buy from him, but other people misuse alcohol or overeat or becoming addicted to gambling. He contended that the products he sells are legal and said authorities have been harassing his business.