Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs Committee Releases Report

The Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs—made up of members of the Minnesota House of Representative appointed by Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis)—approved a report containing recommendations for curbing the sale and use of dangerous substances on Jan. 29.

Speaker Thissen announced the formation of the Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs on May 29, 2013, appointing Rep. Erik Simonson as Chair, with Reps. Kathy Lohmer, Jim Newberger, Dan Schoen, and John Ward serving as members. The committee was directed to hold interim hearings to examine drug abuse issues and recommend legislation to combat the spread of the sale of synthetic drugs across Minnesota. The committee was charged with issuing a report with its recommendations by Feb. 25, 2014.

Committee’s work
Shortly after formation, the committee began its work both convening hearings and attending meetings held by others. These included the following:

  • Duluth public hearing convened by Attorney General Lori Swanson on June 7, 2013, to hear hours of testimony, primarily centered around the store Last Place on Earth.
  • St. Paul hearing on July 9, 2013, to learn some of the chemistry and history behind the issue.
  • Brainerd hearing on Aug. 22, 2013, to hear about the impact on individuals and communities, especially the spread to other areas after the closing of Last Place on Earth.
  • Virginia Community Forum at the Range Rehab Auditorium on Sept. 25, 2013.
  • Joint hearing with the Health and Human Services Policy Committee and the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee on Oct. 9, 2013.
  • Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Laboratory tour on Oct. 9, 2013, to observe and learn about the process involved in testing synthetic drugs.

At these hearings, the committee received testimony from medical professionals, scientists, law enforcement, treatment providers, users, family members, and community members about the impact of synthetic drugs on themselves personally and professionally as well as the impact on the community. Scientists explained the complex chemistry and history behind synthetic drugs.

The 11 recommendations in the report are as follows:

  1. The Legislature should expand the definition of “drug” in statute to include any compound, substance, or derivative that is not approved for human consumption by the United States Food and Drug Administration, or specifically permitted by Minnesota law, and when introduced into the body, induces an effect substantially similar to that of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance, regardless of whether the substance is marketed for the purpose of human consumption.
  2. The Legislature should empower the Board of Pharmacy to issue cease and desist orders to businesses that sell synthetic drugs. The Board should have the authority to order a business to cease selling synthetic drugs that, in the Board’s opinion, are a banned substance or analog of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs. An affected business would be entitled to an administrative hearing to challenge the Board’s order.
  3. The Legislature should remove the sunset on the Board of Pharmacy’s emergency drug scheduling authority. In 2012, the Legislature authorized the Board to schedule newly discovered synthetic drugs using emergency rule-making authority. The Board’s authority is set to expire on Aug. 1, 2014.
  4. The Legislature should strike the statutory requirement that the Board of Pharmacy’s emergency drug scheduling decisions must be ratified by the Legislature to make the Board’s actions final. As a check on the Board’s emergency rule-making authority, the Legislature established a legislative ratification requirement. Removing the ratification process will make the emergency rule-making process less burdensome for the Board. The Legislature would retain the authority to overturn a scheduling decision by the Board of Pharmacy with regard to a specific compound.
  5. The Legislature should create and fund a pilot project that trains prosecutors in the best practices of prosecuting synthetic drug cases, and funds expert witnesses in synthetic drug investigations and trials. Specifically, the pilot project should train prosecutors in the application of the state’s drug analog statute.
  6. To assist in the criminal prosecution of synthetic drug cases, the Legislature should appropriate funds to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for analyzing and testing synthetic drugs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some synthetic drug prosecutions are hampered by a shortage of resources at the BCA to analyze and test unconventional drugs.
  7. The Legislature should direct the commissioners of Education, Health, and Human Services to formulate and implement an educational awareness campaign on the dangers of synthetic drug use. The education campaign should be designed to reach a broad audience, but contain targeted messages for students and youth.
  8. Efforts to reduce and prevent all forms of drug abuse should be reviewed regularly by pertinent legislative committees.
  9. The Minnesota Legislature and state agencies should work together with Minnesota’s federal congressional delegation and federal agencies to pursue further efforts to control Internet sales of illegal drugs.
  10. Local units of government should consider adopting comprehensive drug paraphernalia ordinances similar to Moorhead’s ordinance (see Appendix 16 in the report). Experts believe that gaps in many drug paraphernalia laws allow “headshops” to skirt the law on the prohibition of drug paraphernalia, which in turn, makes it easier for people to consume illicit drugs. The open sale of drug paraphernalia also creates the perception that illicit drug use is acceptable because the tools needed to use the drugs are available for sale in storefronts.
  11. Local county attorneys should use resources across the state when considering charges and/or prosecution strategy in synthetic drug cases.

These recommendations are expected to result in proposed legislation in 2014.

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