ST. PAUL – More synthetic drugs will be illegal under a law taking effect Wednesday, and a state agency will be able to act faster to make newly developed versions illegal.
Still, as makers of the so-called “designer drugs” continue to change chemical formulas to skirt the law, there will be lags between when a new drug is released and it is declared illegal.
State officials and law enforcement officers said Thursday that so much about the drugs known by names such as spice and 2C-E is not known, other than they threaten Minnesota’s youth.
“No one knows what is in these compounds,” Gov. Mark Dayton said during a ceremonial re-signing of a bill he approved in April.
“We don’t know just how badly this affects our young people, our citizens,” Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said.
Designer drugs are marketed as legal alternatives to illegal drugs such as marijuana.
Head shops in Duluth and Moorhead, in particular, have been in the spotlight for selling synthetic drugs. For the most part, what they have sold is legal because there was no law specifically outlawing the substance.
That began to change last year when the state Legislature passed a law that said any drugs that acts like an illegal drug also may be considered illegal. This year, lawmakers added 250 more chemical mixtures to the illegal list and upped the penalty for selling them to a felony, which could bring up to five years in prison.
Law enforcement officers hope the new state laws, combined with federal laws, slow the rapid development of new designer drugs.
“They are bringing this chess game to an end,” Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said of lawmakers.
Many people avoid downtown Duluth, he said, because of problems associated with a shop called the Last Chance on Earth that sells synthetic drugs. He has permanently assigned a police officer to the area near the shop.
Federal authorities raided Last Chance on Wednesday.
Deaths of two young Minnesotans, from Park Rapids and Blaine, have been blamed on synthetic drugs, as has one in eastern North Dakota.
Five Minnesotans recently overdosed on a synthetic drug that does not fall under the new laws, said Director Frank Dolejsi of the Minnesota State Forensic Science Laboratory. However, he added, the new law allows the state Pharmacy Board to more quickly ban the drug.
The board still would need up to four months to make a newly designed drug illegal, board Executive Director Cody Wiberg said.
Under the existing law, it would mean a two or three month longer wait, he said.
Ramsay said there is no doubt there will be a gap between the time a new drug appears and when the state board can outlaw it. But new state and federal laws are better than ones they replace, he said.
According to Wiberg, Minnesotans using synthetic drugs do not know what they are getting.
“When they use these drugs, they are essentially doing a chemical form of Russian roulette,” he said.