New state panel will study how to combat synthetic drugs

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A committee selected by Minnesota's Speaker of the House will suggest ways the state can fight the spread of synthetic drugs.

Speaker Paul Thissen named State Rep. Erik Simonson, a Duluth DFLer, to lead the Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs. Thissen says the panel will report back to the next session of the Legislature on how the state can rein in drug abuse, with an eye on synthetic drugs in particular.

In accepting the post, Simonson noted his district is at the center of the debate over the sale and use of synthetic drugs. A Duluth head shop called the Last Place on Earth has long been under fire for selling the drugs, which are made with chemical combinations that mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine, or other drugs.

Lawmakers at the state and federal levels have tried banning some synthetic drugs. But drug makers have been able to skirt the laws by changing the formulas used to make the drugs.

As WDIO reports, Last Place on Earth owner Jim Carlson claims the products he's been selling since 2009 are legal.

Duluth's city council heard testimony this week on a pair of ordinances aimed at limiting the consumption and sale of the drugs.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is holding a public hearing in Duluth next week on synthetic drug abuse. That comes after Mayor Don Ness called for more state help in fighting what he calls a drug epidemic in the city.

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