Synthetic drug bill passes the House

By T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

A synthetic drug bill passed the House March 28 just days after a man who offered a synthetic drug at a party in Blaine a year ago, resulting in the death of teen, pleaded guilty to murder in Anoka County District Court.

Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, saw his synthetic drug legislation pass the House on a 103 to 11 vote.

“We have to stay one step ahead of the criminals,” said Barrett, speaking after passage.

Because synthetic drug designers often avoid criminal prosecution by slightly altering the chemical makeup of their products, this poses problems for law enforcement and lawmakers.

“We might be at it again next year if the criminals do things to try to skirt the law,” said Barrett.

Barrett’s legislation gives the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy speedier rule-making authority in dealing with the changing chemical formulas used by synthetic drug designers.

It would also increase the penalties for selling syntheticcannabinoids — synthetic marijuana — from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine.

Barrett explained that syntheticcannabinoids can be many times more powerful than marijuana.

Some synthetic drug retailers take the view that lower-level fines for selling syntheticcannabinoids are a kind of business expense, Barrett argued.

“That should be a felony,” he said.

“I want him (the seller) to ask the question, ‘Do I want to spend five years in prison?’,” said Barrett.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, wondered whether the legislation actually carried a hefty corrections’ cost.

“This may be well intended, no doubt about it,” he said.

But changes in drunk driving laws have seen hundreds of people sent to prison — that cost money, Rukavina argued.

Barrett indicated he hoped his bill would serve as a deterrent. But he agreed, speaking later, with Rukavina’s assertion, that hope doesn’t always work well on the House floor.

“Will it (the legislation) end the sale of illegal drugs in the state? — I hope it does,” said Barrett.

Realistically, like other drug laws, the legislation will help deter drug abuse, not end it, he  explained.

“But I don’t want to stand around and watch a health crisis be ignored,” Barrett said.

The Senate has already passed similar legislation. But the Senate bill and Barrett’s are different — Barrett expects the differences to be worked out in conference committee and the reworked bill be back on the House floor next week.

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