ST. PAUL -- Fighting synthetic drugs is a popular topic among Minnesota legislators.
Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, presented his bill to crack down on the dangerous chemicals to the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee on Tuesday, going away with few questions and a unanimous vote. A Senate bill by Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, is expected to begin its trek through the process soon.
House and Senate votes will not be the end for the synthetic drug fight, Simonson said.
Drug makers keep changing chemical formulas they use, as well as marketing, so constant work is needed.
If his bill passes this year, Simonson said, he and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., plan to work on a plan to get the federal government involved in the fight. If Minnesota's law is successful in limiting access to the drugs, the fear is that many drug users will turn to the Internet.
Synthetic drugs have been sold as incense and herbs over the counter. They appear legal to most shoppers, who may not realize they pack the same dangers as illegal drugs.
Years of legislative work has slowed, but not stopped, their sales.
Most media attention has focused on a Duluth store, Last Place on Earth, that sold the drugs. Last Place sold $6 million worth of the drugs in one year, Simonson said.
But, Simonson said, synthetic drugs are an issue all across Minnesota, especially in communities with colleges.
In Moorhead, for instance, police fought head shops selling the drugs for years.
Simonson said the drugs are a problem in the Twin Cities, but other crimes attract more attention.
Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Pharmacy Board, told the committee Tuesday that his agency is ready to deal with the drugs. Simonson's bill requires the board to investigate synthetic drug sales and gives it power to order them to stop selling the drugs.
Simonson said the only potential obstacle he sees for his bill is funding for an education program to inform Minnesotans about the dangers of synthetic drugs that go under names such as Spice and K2. The chemicals that have many of the same effects as illegal drugs also are known as synthetic marijuana and bath salts.
The lawmaker has yet to find out how much the education component will cost, but said if there is too much opposition to spending the money that he could drop the provision.