Synthetic Drug Legislation

By Bob Barrett, Representative, Dist. 17B

This week I presented important public safety legislation to the House Public Safety Committee that addresses the growing problem of synthetic drug production and use in Minnesota.

As chief author of House File 2508, I have held long and fruitful discussions with local law enforcement agencies, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The message remains the same: synthetic drug use is an emerging, deadly problem in our state and country.

Synthetic drugs, oftentimes marketed as K2 or Spice, are substances that are created in a basement or backroom from chemical compounds and sprayed on organic material that are then either smoked or snorted.

While progress was made in the past legislative session outlawing these substances, more needs to be done because of the inherent complexity of synthetic drugs. One change in molecular structure has, in the past, been enough to make a drug legal that should not be.

This bill would enhance current statute by expanding the definition of illicit ‘synthetic’ substances and grant the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy expedited rulemaking authority to handle the ever-changing chemical formulas used by drug producers.

Currently, county attorneys are reluctant to try cases because they do not feel that current language is strong enough to get a conviction. We need to allow our local law enforcement and county attorneys the authority to protect our citizens from the sale and use of these harmful drugs.

Sellers have bragged that the gross misdemeanor penalty is a minor cost to the millions of dollars they pocket each year. House File 2508 would also increase the penalty for the sale of synthetic cannabinoids from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, a $10,000 fine, or both.

Most disturbing are the deadly side effects that synthetic drugs produce. Although synthetic cannabinoids do not contain cannabis (marijuana), when smoked, they deliver similar effects with many times the potency of naturally-occurring THC.

What I also hope to achieve is public awareness so that parents understand the danger of these new drugs and how critically important it is to be able to know how to recognize them. It seems like every week we are hearing of more teen hospitalizations owing to these new, and often unrecognized, drugs.

At a press conference this week, I was joined in support by Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman, Dr. Cody Wiberg (Executive Director, Minnesota Board of Pharmacy), Frank Dolejsi (Director, Forensic Science Service, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension), Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, Rice County Attorney G. Paul Beaumaster (President, Minnesota County Attorneys Association), and Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay. You can view footage from the event at http://youtu.be/gpje-gTCNlo.

The bill passed out of the Public Safety Committee and will next be heard in the Government Operations Committee.

Please feel free to contact me at any time at (651) 296-5377, via e-mail at rep.bob.barrett@house.mn, or via U.S. Mail at 413 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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