The manufacture and distribution of synthetic drugs continues to remain problematic throughout the state; however, a bill passed Wednesday by the House aims to reduce the chances of these ending up in communities across Minnesota.
Sponsored by Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth), HF2446 contains the recommendations of the bipartisan House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs. Following the 130-0 vote, the bill now goes to the Senate where Sen. Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth) is the sponsor.
“We’re not stopping synthetic drugs … what we’re really focusing in on is two things: stopping the retail sale of synthetic drugs and creating an educational effort,” said Simonson, who chaired the select committee. “Synthetic drugs have become more popular than a lot of us realize. … During the course of going across Minnesota and taking testimony, I can’t tell you how many college kids would come up to us and say, ‘If you’re not using synthetic drugs, you are in the minority.’”
Made in labs, synthetic cannabinoids are up to 100 percent more powerful than typical marijuana. According to the select committee’s report, “it is a plant material sprayed with extremely potent psychotropic drugs containing ever-changing chemical strains. These products are most often sold in head shops, smoke shops or over the Internet. They are often labeled as incense and marked ‘Not for Human Consumption’ in a weak attempt to skirt federal law. They have a hallucinogenic effect similar to PCP (angel dust).”
It is proposed that the Board of Pharmacy be permitted to issue cease and desist orders to businesses selling synthetic drugs that contain a banned substance.
Cody Wiberg, the board’s executive director, told the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee March 5 that the order, which would be just for the product in question, would come after the product is tested, likely by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
“The hope is we won’t need to take a whole bunch of these actions because these businesses have to invest money buying these drugs,” Wiberg said. “The hope is that if they pay for the drug and we prevent their sale, that they’re going to lose the money they’ve invested in them, plus the court could order them to pay for the destruction of the drugs as well.”
The Board of Pharmacy can now use expedited rulemaking authority to ban newly identified substances used to make synthetic drugs and have that decision later ratified by the Legislature. However, that authority is set to expire Aug. 1, 2014. The bill would make the board’s action final, but permit the Legislature to overturn a decision.
Sellers of synthetic drugs offering the drug under the false pretense that the substance is legal would be ordered by a court to pay restitution for the costs and expenses resulting from the sale. This could include emergency response and potential long-term care costs for the victim.
“People who sell these drugs know they are selling very dangerous drugs and they know there are going to be consequences,” said Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), one of five House members on the select committee with Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker), Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park), Simonson and Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter).
“This is going to help Minnesota and it’s going to help kids,” Newberger said.
Other provisions include providing $163,000 in fiscal year 2014 from the General Fund to have the state’s human services commissioner work to increase public awareness about the dangers of synthetic drugs and expanding the statutory definition of drug to include “any compound, substance, or derivative which is not approved for human consumption by the United States Food and Drug Administration or specifically permitted by Minnesota law.”