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Forum Editorial Board, Published November 19 2012

Editorial: Tighten drug ban timeline

James Madison famously wrote that if men were angels there would be no need for government. Recent news reminds us that North Dakota is not immune to quick-buck artists who have no conscience in pursuit of profit. We’re referring to reports that a Mandan business called Big Willies has been shut down for selling dangerous synthetic drugs under the fraudulent pretense that they are bath salts. Suffice it to say that the owners of Big Willies – Ryan Zueger and William Nickel, both already awaiting sentencing for selling synthetic marijuana – are not angels.

Fortunately, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is vigilant and aggressive in his ongoing efforts to keep synthetic drugs off the streets. He issued a cease-and-desist order against the owners after consulting with Dr. Terry Dwelle, the state’s health officer, about the dangers the “bath salts” pose to gullible buyers who would use them as street drugs. “These products, although labeled not for human consumption, are marketed and sold as legal alternatives to street drugs,” Stenehjem said when announcing his action. “These street drug alternatives are known to cause serious, and potentially lethal, health effects.”

Two days later – after taking similar action against a Minot “head shop,” Hemp Horizonz – Stenehjem announced that he will go before the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy on Nov. 30 to ask for emergency rules to ban more chemicals used in synthetic drugs. The developments came as memories are fresh of the tragic deaths of two teenagers in the Grand Forks area who took synthetic drugs sold by a ring of dealers.

Stenehjem rightly pointed out that officials can’t afford to wait three or four months until the North Dakota Legislature can pass new laws banning the substances. Officials find themselves constantly having to react to new synthetic drugs that surface, like poisonous mushrooms after a rain, mere weeks after the latest ban takes effect. But even under the state’s emergency procedures, assuming the pharmacy board approves Stenehjem’s recommendation, it still will take another 60 days for the ban to become legally enforceable.

That period allows for a public hearing and legal notices to be distributed to known sellers of the dangerous and potentially lethal synthetic drugs. Public hearings and notices are vital, but lawmakers should consider allowing for a quicker emergency timetable for bans to take effect. Purveyors of synthetic drugs are frustratingly creative and persistent. Procedures to stop them, and protect the public, should be more nimble.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.