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By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published February 27 2010

North Dakota rules restricting ‘fake pot’ sales take effect

BISMARCK – Emergency rules to restrict sales of powder and herbs that mimic the effects of methamphetamine and marijuana took effect Friday, but not before some of the mixtures were sold to late-night customers.

The state Board of Pharmacy, which endorsed the temporary regulations at the request of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, will hold a hearing April 24 in Minot about whether the rules should be made permanent.

The regulations put seven types of chemicals on the state’s list of controlled substances, which means they cannot be legally bought, sold or possessed without a prescription.

Stenehjem said violating the new rules would be a felony. Stenehjem asked the pharmacy board to approve them during a telephone conference call late Thursday because of reports that at least two users of the fake methamphetamine required hospital treatment.

Authorities said the fake meth is sold in some North Dakota head shops, advertised as bath salt. The fake marijuana is promoted as incense or aromatherapy. Stenehjem said the latter consist of herbs sprayed with a chemical designed to mimic marijuana’s high when it is burned.

Ryan Zueger, a co-owner of Big Willies, a Mandan shop that sold the products, said the store returned most of the salts to its distributor earlier at the request of Paul Leingang, the deputy Mandan police chief.

Zueger said 50 grams of salts that could not be returned were given to Mandan police. Big Willies had been selling the salts for $50 a gram, Zueger said.

The store, which normally closes at 8 p.m. 8:30 p.m., opened after Thursday’s 9 p.m. Board of Pharmacy meeting and stayed open until about midnight to sell the aromatherapy herbs, Zueger said. Most of the 13 herb varieties cost $35 a gram, he said.

“We sold a little bit, nothing major,” late Thursday night, Zueger said Friday. He said the unsold stock, which he estimated at 2,000 grams, was sent to Minnesota early Friday.

Stenehjem said a number of Big Willies’ customers were alerted about the impending rules.

“There were text messages that went out from all the young customers on their cell phones, announcing that if you wanted to buy these products now, you’d better get in there now,” he said.

A description of the rules says they are targeted at substances that have “a potential for abuse” if inhaled or eaten. It says the rules are not expected to have more than $50,000 worth of impact on affected businesses.

Zueger, however, said the rule will cost Big Willies more than $125,000 in monthly sales. He insisted the regulations’ language could be applied to cigarettes or strong coffee.

“Painkillers should be on there, tobacco for the nicotine, coffee, cappuccinos, pop,” he said.

Stenehjem said it was nonsense to compare the substances targeted in the rules with caffeine or nicotine. Customers who bought the products should know the new rules make it illegal to possess as well as use them, the attorney general said.

“He knows what his customers are using these products for. He’s running a head shop,” Stenehjem said. “We’re not talking about caffeine here.”