Minn. lawmakers to tackle synthetic drugs

Last Place on Earth
The sidewalk outside The Last Place on Earth is packed with people hanging around in October 2012 in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR, file

Minnesota lawmakers are heading to Duluth in their search for answers to the problems caused by synthetic drugs.

Members of a special committee appointed by House Speaker Paul Thissen have been asked to come up with legislative recommendations. The Duluth News Tribune reported they'll be in in Duluth next week with Attorney General Lori Swanson.

A head shop called Last Place on Earth sells synthetics, and its business has prompted numerous complaints by city leaders, residents and neighboring businesses. At least one business owner has blamed the failure on his business on customers being driven away by the behavior of head shop customers.

The head shop's owner, Jim Carlson, has been arrested multiple times and faces pending counts of distributing controlled substances. He has insisted the products he sold were legal.

Rep. Erik Simonson, a Duluth Democrat, said the city is a logical place to examine the effect of synthetics. A meeting is planned for June 7.

"When I look at what's going on statewide, I think Duluth is clearly ahead of the curve in terms of being educated about what this stuff does to a community, and I think we're ahead of the curve with respect to having witnessed the ineffectiveness of recent legislative changes," Simonson said.

Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council in Duluth, said she's hoping for a strong turnout at the meeting, which is next week's meeting.

"From the standpoint of the local business community, this is our chance to share concerns and show them how much synthetic drugs are impacting our entire community," she said.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness acknowledged the city needs help. The city has tried to have the head shop shut down as a public nuisance.

"We've been doing everything we can at the local level. But some of the tools that are available at the state level have proven effective in other places. If they can see the scope and severity of the problem we face here, they might be willing to take ownership of this issue and work with us to address it," Ness said.

Minnesota law already bans the sale of synthetic drugs, but a move to broaden it this past session to include analogs - compounds similar to substances already banned - did not advance.

Other public hearings are planned in Brainerd and on the Iron Range.

"Our goal will be to try to educate legislators about the magnitude of this problem, and the fact is: If we don't get a handle on this somehow, it's going to continue to get worse," Simonson said.


Information from: Duluth News Tribune