Frustration was the theme of Thursday’s Minnesota House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs’ hearing at Central Lakes College. Frustration on how to curb the sale and use of synthetic drugs and frustration that more people weren’t alarmed at what those testifying called the “epidemic” proportions of their use.
Assistant Crow Wing County Attorney David Hermerding said several attempts were made to stop the sale of synthetic marijuana at Risky Business Novelties and Gifts but the cases proved difficult to prosecute. Risky Business owner Ronald W. Beattie was found guilty of 35 counts of willfully evading state taxes at his store and was sentenced to jail.
“We’re dealing with a very strong industry here,” Hermerding said. “It has been incredibly frustrating process. The law has to be written broader to take in all of the chemical compounds.”
Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan described incidents in which young people suffered serious medical problems as the result of using synthetic drugs.
“If what they’re selling is legal right now there’s nothing we can do about it,” Ryan said.
Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said he was proud of the efforts of his department to stem the tide of these drugs but they were stymied by other factors.
“The laboratory results weren’t there to support our cases,” McQuiston said.
He said it wasn’t the novelty merchandise that was drawing customers to Risky Business, it was the chance to legally buy synthetic marijuana.
“Traditional reactive law enforcement measures just haven’t been effective,” McQuiston said. “It’s not incense. They’re using the stuff to get high. We need help with this. ... Let’s come up with something else. Maybe it’s through some other avenues of awareness.
He said people were getting rich through the sales of these dangerous drugs and new strategies may be needed.
“Try to push this problem out to a larger group and apply a different thinking process ... I’m passionate about this. I’m frustrated.”
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, noted the police chief’s emotion as he testified.
“This place should be packed because every one of our children is at risk,” he said. About 30 attended.
Responding to a question from Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, who was invited to sit in with committee members, McQuiston said he was opposed to the legalization of medical marijuana.
“I couldn’t think of a bigger mistake,” he said.
Also testifying to problems associated with synthetic drugs were Aurora Mayor Mary Hess, who reported an upswing in traffic at a store that sold synthetic drugs after a similar shop in Duluth was shut down, and Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted who addressed the serious cases of drug use his department has seen.
“We haven’t had it end in a death yet,” Exsted said. “We’re trying to protect our citizens but we’re really struggling.”
Peggy Kates, the mother of a man who was addicted to synthetic drugs, described his severe medical problems from the drugs that prompted him to pawn everything he owned.
“It needs to stop,” she said of the synthetic drug sales. “It needs to come to an end.”
Loren Beilke, owner of USA Mobile Drug Testing, said tests often don’t show the signs of synthetic drugs. Specific testing for those drugs is expensive and takes considerably longer.
Sam Anderson of Teen Challenge accompanied three men who are recovering from drug use that included synthetic drugs. The men identified themselves by their first names only.
“It’s seriously addictive and it’s destroying lives,” Anderson said.
Anthony said the synthetic drugs were just as bad as heroin or methamphetamine.
“It really ‘dumbs’ you,” Anthony said, warning of the drugs’ long-term effects.
Colton, 21, said synthetic marijuana was preferred to real marijuana by many users. Ryan, 19, said an older man bought him his first synthetic drugs.
“I did whatever I could to get it,” Ryan said. “I pawned all my stuff.”
John Davis, an area law officer and narcotics investigator, said the rationalization that these drugs are legal is often used by young people to explain their experimentation.
“It frustrates me to see the low attendance,” at Thursday’s hearing.
“I don’t see the community awareness.”
Megan Bistodeau of Northern Pines Mental Health Center, said she works with high school students and described the synthetic drugs as “very scary.”
The committee is chaired by Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth. Also serving on the panel, in addition to Ward, are Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker and Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park. Lohmer did not attend Thursday’s hearing.
Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, also attended the hearing.
The next hearing will be conducted in the Twin Cities area this fall.