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Concern about the deadly effect of synthetic drugs has led to a significant increase in federal prosecutions. From 1986 to 2011, an average of 34 people per year nationwide were charged under a law barring synthetic drugs, but since 2011, 280 individuals have been indicted.
A 2011 Star Tribune investigation reported that at least two products sold at Carlson’s store in 2011 contained chemicals that mimic illegal drugs. The head shop was raided July 25, 2012, as part of a nationwide “takedown” by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, was one of the first in the country to warn about dangerous synthetic drugs being changed slightly and marketed. He said state and federal governments have improved their efforts to quickly add specific compounds to their lists of banned substances, but he noted that the federal “analog” law has made closely related substances illegal, too.
“We’ve seen that down here in Louisiana, too, where somebody would come forth and say, ‘Hey, this is new, it’s a new substance, it’s legal,’ and when you look at the chemical structure and how it fits into a group, law enforcement and the statute goes, ‘Nah, that’s an analog so you’re guilty.’ ”
But Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Hamline Law School in St. Paul, said the synthetic drug law is vague and could lead to a successful appeal. “I think the defense may have a good argument,” he said.
All 55 felony counts in the indictment, including conspiracy, misbranding drugs, distribution of a controlled substance and illegal monetary transactions, named Carlson. Haugen and Gellerman were charged with four counts each, including conspiracy.
Attorneys for Haugen and Gellerman tried to distance themselves from Carlson, saying that he had told them that the substances were legal.
Gellerman was merely an $8 or $9-an-hour sales clerk who made no decisions on the suppliers or the nature of the substances he sold, his attorney, Charles Hawkins, told the jury.
His father told him the substances were legal and why wouldn’t a son believe his father, Hawkins asked. “He wouldn’t put you in harm’s way.”
Staff writer Pam Louwagie contributed to this report. Randy Furst • 612-673-4224