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Others’ Opinion: State scores big against synthetic drugs

Published 9:36am Thursday, August 21, 2014

—St. Cloud Times

Minnesotans have seen two important developments — one punitive, one preventive — this month in the battle against synthetic drugs. Both are worth noting.

On the punitive front, Jim Carlson, owner of downtown Duluth’s Last Place on Earth head shop, was sentenced last week to 17 1/2 years in federal prison. On the preventive front, the state Department of Health has launched a website — http://knowthedangers.com/ — to help educate people, especially parents and kids, about the dangers of these illicit drugs.

Big victory

The sentencing Thursday of Carlson on more than 50 felony counts represents the biggest victory Minnesotans have had in the war against synthetic drugs. In fact, it might be one of the nation’s biggest.

Carlson and the city of Duluth battled for years about his head shop selling synthetic drugs, typically packaged as bath salts or even potpourri and labeled “not for human consumption.”

Yet as the federal court case against Carlson showed, his business boomed — and it wasn’t because customers like to bathe and have nice-smelling homes. Instead, as prosecutors noted, his store’s sales spurred increased police and ambulance calls there, and the products people bought put some of them in the hospital, perhaps even coffins.

Meanwhile, Carlson profited quite handsomely. Witness U.S. District Judge David Doty also ordered him to forfeit $6.5 million. His assets are valued at $8 million.

After his time in prison, Carlson faces three years of supervised release. He also was fined $25,000.

Prevention amps up

Make no mistake. Carlson’s often open defiance of lawmakers and law enforcement certainly was a factor in Minnesota passing stronger measures against synthetic drugs. Similarly, his case is one of many that have federal lawmakers proposing similar changes, including a potential ban on all synthetic substances.

While it will likely be years until such proposals take effect nationally, Minnesota earlier this month did take another positive step in battling these illicit drugs when it launched the website http://knowthedangers.com/.

Using video clips from experts along with photos of actual products, the site gives Minnesotans a clear picture of why these drugs are dangerous, what to look for in users and how to help people under their influence.


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