DEA chemist testifies against Last Place salesA U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chemist testified Wednesday in the Last Place on Earth trial that products sold as incense and bath salts at the downtown Duluth head shop contained substances that were illegal analogues.
By: Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS — A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chemist testified Wednesday in the Last Place on Earth trial that products sold as incense and bath salts at the downtown Duluth head shop contained substances that were illegal analogues.
While not specifically banned, the products contained compounds that were substantially similar to Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substances, Terry Boos testified. The U.S. Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 bans such substances.
Boos, the acting chief of the drug and chemical evaluation section of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, told jurors that chemical compounds found in some of the products were only an atom away from being identical to specifically banned substances.
Last Place on Earth owner Jim Carlson, 56, is charged in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis with 55 crimes for allegedly selling controlled substance analogues and misbranding drugs for sale. His girlfriend, Lava Haugen, 32, and son, Joseph Gellerman, 35, are each charged with four counts in the indictment.
The defendants and their attorneys are arguing that they attempted to stay ahead of the law and never intentionally sold any illegal substances. Their own expert witnesses are expected to later contradict Boos’ assessment that the chemicals qualified as analogues.
The five defense attorneys attempted to prevent Boos from offering his opinion in the case, calling into question his qualifications. Attorneys argued that Boos’ methodology for drawing conclusions has not been peer-reviewed.
After a lengthy sidebar discussion, Judge David S. Doty, who has the authority to disqualify expert witnesses, allowed the testimony to continue, but issued a cautionary warning to jurors.
“That is not the typical factual testimony that you have been hearing,” Doty told the jury. “He is offering his opinions. You need to weigh expert testimony, and the amount of weight you put on it will bear on how you decide this case.”
Boos testified that he was asked by prosecutors to compare compounds XLR-11 and UR-114 with AM-2201 and JWH-018, which are both federally banned as Schedule I substances.
“I’ve analyzed each and I’ve arrived at the opinion that each is substantially similar to a controlled substance,” he said.
The Last Place on Earth had sold products containing JWH-018 until it was banned, but switched to AM-2201 after it took effect. When AM-2201 was subsequently banned, the store switched to products that contained XLR-11 and UR-114. But while defense attorneys contend the chemical switches were an effort to stay legal, prosecutors say the defendants knew they were simply switching to a controlled substance analogue.
During two hours of highly technical testimony, Boos said that all four chemicals were substantially similar to one another and that they all affect cannabinoid receptors in the brain, creating the feeling of a high. Three of the compounds were first documented by researchers who unsuccessfully attempted to develop drugs that would activate antibody capabilities of cannabinoid receptors in the immune system, Boos said.
None of the compounds have ever been brought to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for development and none have been approved for human consumption, Boos said.
Boos was still on the stand when court adjourned for the day, and will resume testimony this morning, when defense attorneys will have an opportunity for cross-examination.
Earlier in the day Monday, jurors heard testimony of several former Last Place on Earth customers and manufacturers of synthetic drugs.
Former users described a variety of effects they felt from the use of products purchased at the store. Anthony Kling, a senior at Duluth East High School, testified that he was addicted and found it nearly impossible to quit.
“Quite a lot of the time, I almost felt like I was going to die,” he said. “It was a scary, scary thing, but I couldn’t stop.”
But several users told defense attorneys that the effects of the so-called synthetic marijuana were quite different than the real thing. While real marijuana creates a feeling of laziness, the synthetic blends often create a burst of energy, witnesses testified.
“It felt kind of like marijuana, but it was way more intense,” Floyd Hipsher, a former user, testified. “It hit quickly.”
The Analogue Act states that for a substance to qualify as an analogue, it must be substantially similar to a controlled substance not only in chemical composition, but also in effects.
Prosecutor Surya Saxena said Wednesday that the government has four more witnesses to call before resting its case.