MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Makers of synthetic drugs may soon have a tougher time getting their products to the marketplace in Minnesota.
A bipartisan bill would ban any inhaled or ingested drug that isn't approved by the FDA, and that causes an effect like the most dangerous drugs identified by the U.S. government such as heroin and LSD. The proposal also would empower the state Board of Pharmacy to stop stores found selling those drugs.
The bill doesn't address sales via the Internet, a major conduit for synthetics.
A state House judiciary panel unanimously approved the bill Tuesday and referred it to the House Health and Human Services Policy committee.
Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, who is a retired sheriff's deputy, said during the hearing that Minnesota needs to make the bill law.
"We're five steps behind," he said. "Law enforcement needs to be in front."
The legislation also includes about $100,000 for a synthetic-drug education program aimed at middle- and high-schoolers, Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said in an interview before Tuesday's hearing.
"What we're trying to do is stop the retail sale of these types of drugs," Simonson said.
Synthetic drugs have become a scourge in Minnesota, with lawmakers and law enforcement struggling to rein them in. Lawmakers and the state Board of Pharmacy annually add chemical compounds to the list of illegal drugs. But drug manufacturers can get around such a list by tweaking their recipes to make substances with slightly different chemical makeups.
Attorney General Lori Swanson expressed her frustration with the situation in January testimony before a House panel.
"It really became a game of Whac-A-Mole," Swanson said. "On and on it went, as the industry and the sellers tried to get ahead of the laws."
Authorities say the deaths of a man and a woman in Mankato earlier this month may have been due to their use of synthetic drugs. Four people have been arrested. In Duluth, home to Simonson's district, police and city officials waged a long battle against the state's best-known seller of synthetic drugs, Jim Carlson, before successfully closing his Last Place on Earth head shop.
Carlson was convicted in federal court last year of 51 charges including dealing misbranded drugs.
"This (new) language makes it crystal clear that the sort of products sold at places like Last Place on Earth in Duluth really are drugs as everyone knows they are," Cody Wiberg, who holds a doctorate in pharmacy and is the executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy in Minneapolis, said before the hearing.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said he supported Simonson's bill.
"The proposal will improve the state's ability to collect data to spot emerging trends," he said in an email.