Legislators work to up synthetic drug penalties

Minnesota Board of Pharmacy Director Cody Wiberg testifies to a legislative committee Wednesday in favor of a bill cracking down on synthetic drugs in the state. Next to him is bill author Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer. The bill passed in the House committee.

By Danielle Nordine

In a continued fight against synthetic drugs, Minnesota lawmakers are considering making selling some of them a felony.

A bill is headed to the House floor setting a penalty for selling certain synthetic drugs, compounds meant to mimic the effects of the actual drugs, a felon with five years in prison. It currently is a gross misdemeanor.

“Maybe the threat of jail time will get the message across that we don’t want one more death in Minnesota as a result of these dangerous drugs,” bill author Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, said.

Synthetic drugs are becoming more popular, Barrett said at a House committee hearing Wednesday. He said young people are experimenting with them while older drug users have said they provide the “ultimate high.”

Last year, the Legislature banned a number of synthetic drug compounds, but Barrett said that has not solved the problem.

“This year some head shop owners haven’t got the message yet,” he said.

The bill adds some new substances to the list of illegal synthetic drugs. But people have been tweaking formulas slightly and continued selling essentially the same drugs, Barrett said.

The bill also would allow the state Board of Pharmacy to use an expedited process to outlaw dangerous drugs, making it easier to keep up with new synthetic drugs as they are discovered, he said.

“This would allow us to deal with immediate health threats,” Board of Pharmacy Director Cody Wiberg said.

The synthetic drug problem received notice after a party in Blaine, where one person died and others were hospitalized after overdosing on a synthetic drug known as 2 C-E.

Synthetic compounds have caused problems in a number of other cities as well. Duluth, Moorhead and other cities’ officials have tried to stop the sale of synthetic drugs in local businesses.

There are rules on what kind of drugs can be added to the board’s list, Wiberg said. To add a substance to the top tier, called schedule one, it must have a high potential for misuse, no currently accepted medical use and known adverse effects, among other qualifiers.

Wiberg quelled concerns about over-the-counter or prescription medicines falling under this classification.

“This is truly meant for the synthetic designer drugs that have not been tested by anyone,” he said.

It still would take about 90 days to ban a substance, Wiberg added.

“We are well equipped to make those determinations,” Wiberg said.

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