Minn. head shop owner says fake pot ban won't work

Synthetic pot
This file photo shows a package of K2 which contains herbs and spices sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The owner of a Duluth head shop says a new federal ban on the sale of five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana won't make much difference - he'll just stock brands that use other, still-legal substances.

Jim Carlson, owner of the Last Place on Earth, said he will still stock top-selling brands of fake pot, which contain organic leaves coated with chemicals that provide a marijuana-like high when smoked.

"We're just going to pull in the ones with different compounds - and they are readily available," Carlson told the Duluth News Tribune.

Synthetic marijuana has been sold in drug paraphernalia shops and on the Internet under various brands including Spice, K2, Blaze and Red X Dawn. The Drug Enforcement Agency's ban, imposed Tuesday, affects only five chemicals used in the products.

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Carlson said that with about 210 similar chemicals available, the manufacturers will try to keep one step ahead of the government

"Unfortunately he is correct," said Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington, who confirmed Tuesday that many suppliers are offering retailers products with new chemicals. "There are many of these substances and we chose five common ones because we don't have the resources to study all of them."

Federal drug officials announced plans for the emergency measure in November amid increasing reports of bad reactions including seizures, hallucinations and dependency. The ban is scheduled to remain in place for at least one year while researchers study the five chemicals.

Neither the banned chemicals nor the other ones that might take their place in synthetic marijuana products have been tested in humans, Carreno said, so nothing definitive is known about their short- or long-term effects on people. She said it's dangerous for people to ingest these substances when they don't know what the physical or psychological effects will be.

Synthetic marijuana is a "highly profitable business," Carreno said, but most of the chemicals come from overseas, and many retailers have no idea what the active ingredients in the products are, and they may buy from dishonest suppliers. So that makes it even harder for consumers to evaluate what they're smoking, she said.

The Last Place on Earth is one of four Minnesota head shops that have sued to block the ban. A federal judge threw out their lawsuit in January, saying it was premature because the DEA had not yet acted.

But their attorney, Marc Kurzman, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he filed papers in U.S. District Court and with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday seeking again to block the ban. He contends the DEA has no authority to ban the chemicals and that its claims about their effects are false. Now that the DEA has imposed the ban, Kurzman said he believes the courts will rule in his clients' favor.

The other stores in the lawsuit are the Hideaway in Minneapolis, Down in the Valley in Golden Valley and Discontent in Moorhead.

"We just think they're overstepping their boundaries and treading on the Constitution," Carlson said. "We plan to take it to the Supreme Court."

And Carlson said he doesn't think his sales of fake pot will be stymied.

"Let's say I had a liquor store, and you like gin . and they say you can't have gin anymore," he said. "Well, you're probably going to keep coming back, but now you'll buy vodka."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)