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Minnesota Legislature

Synthetic marijuana penalties gets OK

Published (1/21/2011)
By Mike Cook
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Lt. Haans Vitek, with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit, testifies before the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee Jan. 20 in support of a bill that would criminalize the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)For about nine months, a 16-year-old boy in the district of Rep. Tara Mack (R-Apple Valley) was using synthetic marijuana unbeknownst to his parents. Because of his “dangerous and very scary behavior,” Mack said, the parents knew something was wrong.

“He had gotten it from some friends; was told it was some sort of a potpourri and was told it wasn’t real dangerous, but ended up having seizures and some severe medical effects because of this,” she said. “It was very disturbing.”

Sponsored by Rep. John Kriesel (R-Cottage Grove), HF57 would make it a gross misdemeanor to sell synthetic marijuana and a misdemeanor to possess the substance.

Approved Jan. 20 by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, it next goes to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

“Synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or Spice, is a mix of common herbs sprayed with synthetic chemicals that mimics the effects of marijuana,” Kriesel said. “It is currently being sold in head shops and in stores as incense or potpourri, but is being used as an inhalant for people to get high. … This product is becoming increasingly popular with teenagers because there is no minimum age to purchase the product and there are hundreds of videos on YouTube demonstrating to teenagers how to get high.”

It has been banned in 17 countries and 11 other states.

Cody Wiberg, executive director of Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, said in the first 11 months of last year there were more than 2,500 calls nationwide to poison control centers because of synthetic marijuana use.

“People who sell these products and make them sometimes like to characterize them as ‘marijuana lite.’ I can assure they are not,” he said, adding there are no medical uses for this.

Lt. Haans Vitek, with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit, said it’s also sold under names Demon, Triple X and Mr. Nice Guy. “Because it is sold as incense and labeled as ‘Not for Human Consumption,’ it has avoided federal laws against marijuana-like products.”

Representatives from the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Minnesota Juvenile Officers Association all spoke in support of the bill. There was no opposition.

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