Minnesota legislators and Attorney General Lori Swanson will begin hearings next week to try to better understand synthetic drug problems that plague a handful of communities around the state.
DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen this week created a temporary committee on controlled substances and synthetic drugs that will hold hearings over the interim on drug abuse issues. Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, will chair the committee, which has to present a report to the speaker by the time session starts in February next year. The committee will kick off its work by teaming up with the attorney general, who is holding a public hearing on synthetic drug use in Duluth on June 7.
“This is a really big issue in Duluth, and the frustration has been that legislation has been changed twice now, and we still have this happening,” Simonson said. “We have to try and figure out something that’s able to be useful and helpful in getting these things off the street.”
Minnesota law already bans the sale of synthetic drugs, but a proposal to broaden the law to include so-called “lookalike” drugs, or those made from compounds similar to synthetic drugs, like bath salts, failed to pass this session. Similar proposals have been adopted in states like Indiana and proven successful, Simonson said.
In Minnesota, the issue of synthetic drugs has been largely confined to specific communities, such as Duluth. “A big part of this will be informing legislators of the problem,” Simonson said. “I just don’t think the Legislature was ready for it, and I think there’s just not enough awareness of it. If you aren’t from a community where it’s being sold and being used, you might not know how big of an issue this is, but it’s spreading across the state.”
Additional hearings are planned on the Iron Range and in Brainerd. State Reps. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, Jim Newberger, R-Becker, Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park and John Ward, DFL-Baxter, will also serve on the committee.