The Duluth City Council has passed two ordinances designed to clamp down on the sale and use of synthetic drugs.
One would require retailers to obtain a license to sell synthetic drugs, and the other would make it illegal to smoke, ingest, inject or snort any product with a label that says it is not for human consumption.
Council member Sharla Gardner, a co-sponsor of the ordinances passed Monday, said authorities have had a hard time regulating the synthetic drug industry because chemists create new compounds as quickly as others are outlawed.
"I would like to see synthetic drugs made illegal, but until they are, we should use the tools we have available," she said.
Jim Carlson, owner of Last Place on Earth, a downtown store that sells synthetic drugs and the subject of several complaints by city officials, residents and businesses, says synthetic drug sales licenses would effectively make the products legal.
Council member Linda Krug said the council is not condoning their use, but merely regulating them, according to The Duluth News Tribune.
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Councilor Jim Stauber recalled a 2010 ordinance that made synthetic marijuana illegal but that the city later determined could not be enforced.
"I think the council made matters worse instead of better," Stauber said, adding that the action only increased the profile of Last Place on Earth. Stauber said he didn't want to repeat that mistake by making Duluth the first Minnesota city to license synthetic drug sales.
"I think we just continue to make the situation worse and worse, and better for Mr. Carlson, rather than actually solving anything," he said. Stauber was the only council member to vote against the licensing ordinance. The council unanimously passed the ordinance that makes the consumption of synthetic drugs illegal.
David Ross, president and chief executive of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, said his board supported the measures to restore "comfort and normalcy" downtown.
Carlson, meanwhile, took exception to several requirements attached to the proposed licenses, including one that the synthetic drug ingredients be clearly identified on product labels, and that the substances not be sold to anyone younger than 18. Carlson has said his shop already doesn't sell to anyone under age 18, and he has questioned why he should be more highly regulated than other shops in Minnesota and nationwide.
Dr. Nicholas Van Deelen, an emergency room physician at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth, said people with adverse reactions to synthetic drugs show up in the hospital daily, and that the long-term effects of using these drugs is unknown.
"We think this is a public health crisis," he said.
Information from: Duluth News Tribune