Representatives support synthetic drug crackdown

A new committee is pushing a bill to regulate synthetic drugs more tightly.

Mitchell Yurkowitz

House of Representatives committee members support a proposal that aims to combat the use and distribution of synthetic drugs in Minnesota.

The bill’s author, Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said at a House committee meeting Wednesday that he hopes to decrease the distribution of synthetic drugs and streamline the prosecution processes associated with offenses.

“It is very prevalent still in Minnesota, especially among student populations, high school, college and young adults,” he told the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Nearly 180 synthetic marijuana exposure cases were reported in January across the country, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Cases totaled more than 2,640 last year.

If the bill passes before the legislative session ends in May, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy would have the power to order businesses selling synthetic drugs to cease and desist.

The proposal would also provide funding to increase educational efforts throughout the state and establish a pilot program to help prosecutors with drug cases.

Simonson heads a state committee, known as the Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs, which has been meeting and evaluating how the state regulates synthetic drugs since it formed in  May in order to draft a recommendation for the Legislature to consider this session.

Besides what’s included in the proposed bill, the recommendation also advocates for local ordinances that prevent the sale of drug paraphernalia. It would ban the sale of glass pipes and bongs, potentially affecting local smoke shops like Hideaway, similar to a law passed in Moorhead last year.

Stadium Village’s Smokedale Tobacco location was raided for synthetic drugs over the summer, although agents didn’t find any illicit substances.

“We have really good laws in Minnesota that are very useful and productive tools, but we also … [need] to give law enforcement and prosecutors a better opportunity to control this problem in their own community,” Simonson said.