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Associated Press, Published January 22 2013

ND legislation takes aim at synthetic drugs

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill that would outlaw chemicals used to make synthetic drugs, but one lawmaker questioned the legislation's vague language Monday.

The proposal follows a high-profile case in Mandan in which business owners were convicted of conspiracy and a Grand Forks case that involved hospitalizations and deaths.

House Bill 1133 would ban the use, possession and distribution of substances with chemical structures “substantially similar” to illegal drugs. It is an effort by authorities to keep up with chemicals being developed by chemists to skirt bans already put in place to crack down on synthetic drugs.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Kim Koppleman questioned whether the “substantially similar” language would hold up in court. Assistant Attorney General Julie Lawyer said similar laws already are in place in other states and have survived challenges.

The North Dakota Board of Pharmacy used an emergency rule in February 2010 to outlaw numerous specific chemicals used to make synthetic versions of common street drugs. The 2011 Legislature expanded the law, but the state crime laboratory began seeing new chemicals within weeks of the bans being put into effect, the Bismarck Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/WRK8dT ). The pharmacy board again expanded the law using emergency rules last December, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem promised more efforts during the Legislature to stop the use and distribution of such substances.

Stenehjem late last year ordered Hemp Horizonz in Minot and Big Willies in Mandan to stop selling synthetic drugs. A jury three months earlier had convicted the co-owners of the Mandan shop on felony conspiracy charges. In eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, nearly a dozen people were charged last year in what authorities say was a synthetic drug ring that led to the deaths of two teenagers and the hospitalization of several others.

HB1133 would provide a “catch-all” law to stay ahead of chemists who are coming up with new ways to get people high, Stenehjem told lawmakers on Monday. The proposed legislation would make possession of such substances a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines, and distribution a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

The committee did not take action on the bill at the hearing Monday.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.