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Assistant Winona County Attorney Christina Davenport said the 2011 statutes outlawing specific compounds helped — to a point.
The drug can be ordered easily from China, she said, and is dealt locally for $30 a “point,” or a tenth of a gram. The county still is dealing with 911 calls from children who fear that their parents are suicidal, or who have had knives held to their throats.
“The danger really is still there; it’s just that it’s not being flaunted in the way that it was before,” she said.
Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets, whose office deferred to federal authorities when it came to prosecuting Duluth’s Last Place on Earth, said the key will be laws that make the possession and sale of synthetic drugs a felony.
According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, St. Louis County consistently leads the state in the number of synthetic drug cases.
“This drug is worse than methamphetamine, particularly the bath salts,” Holets said, “so let’s make it punishable the way it should be.”
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said it’s clear that “there’s no silver bullet” to solving the state’s synthetic drug problem, and said public education on the danger of this new class of drugs will be an important component in curbing their use.
Another potential dilemma for legislators as they wrestle with this problem is the growing effort to legalize marijuana, at least for medical use. Interest groups have tried for years to lift the ban on marijuana use and appear to be readying for another effort in the coming legislative session.
That could put legislators in the position of banning fake cannabis while legalizing the real stuff.
Ward said he probably would vote against a marijuana bill, but said he doesn’t believe that the synthetic drug effort would be harmed by a bill proposing the use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.
But how the two would look side-by-side, he said, “That’s a very interesting question.”
Simonson said the marijuana debate is unrelated to the fight against synthetic drugs and “really needs to be treated separately.”
The committee will host another public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd. Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, said he’s encouraged the next meeting is taking place at a community college.
The topic of synthetic drugs recently came up with his college-aged daughter, who told him, “It’s about time.”
“This is a rampant problem with our college kids, and bringing it to a college environment is the next step,” Newberger said.
“Her words were basically to this effect: ‘If you weren’t doing it you were one of the odd people out.’ That’s how prevalent it is.”
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921