A measure aimed toward further slowing the flow of synthetic drugs in Minnesota unanimously cleared its first hurdle Wednesday.

The House Public Safety Committee unanimously approved a bill that further expands the definition of synthetic drugs from a specific chemical compound to anything producing the same effect as a banned drug. The goal is to in encompass the ever-changing makeups of synthetic drugs, which allow synthetic drug manufacturers and dealers to evade prosecution.

Despite laws passed in 2011 that deemed specific synthetic drugs illegal, law enforcement has continued to struggle with the fallout from the substances marketed as “bath salts” or “incense” and designed to mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

A key aspect to the bill enables the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to issue cease and desist orders to businesses that sell synthetic drugs, rather than seeking time-consuming court and legislative action. If the Board of Pharmacy believes a banned substance is being sold inside a business and it tests positive as such, they can immediately order it to stop.

The bill’s author, Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said such cease-and-desist powers could have brought a quicker halt to synthetic drug sales by Last Place on Earth, a now-closed Duluth head shop, whose owner, Jim Carlson, was convicted in federal court for selling synthetic drugs.

The bill was passed after a group of lawmakers toured the state to hear from the public about the impact of the drugs across the state. In Moorhead, Minn., where as many as five head shops once lined the streets and one man was so high on synthetic drugs that he jumped through a second-floor glass window, police made arrest after arrest, only to see the cases dropped because the laws made specific chemical compounds illegal, manufacturers simply tweaked their recipes to skirt the law.

Simonson said the bill likely isn’t a cure-all, and further legislation could be necessary down the line to adapt to an ever-morphine issue, particularly when it comes to Internet sales.

The bill heads next to the House Health and Human Services Committee.

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