ND AG: Law not keeping pace with synthetic drugs

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm •  Published: October 11, 2012

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The girl was screaming incoherently as she drove along a northeastern North Dakota road. Feeling trapped in a "cartoon world" after smoking synthetic marijuana, she shrieked in response to the 911 operator's patient questions: What's the problem? Where are you?

"I'm driving!" the unidentified teen yells. "Help me, please!"

The recording, played Thursday at a legislative hearing, illustrates the danger posed by synthetic drugs, the use of which is becoming "epidemic" in North Dakota, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.

Synthetic drug overdoses have killed at least two young people in northeastern North Dakota and sent several to hospital, he said.

North Dakota already bans many types of synthetic marijuana and stimulant drugs that mimic the effects of amphetamines. But the changing chemical makeup of the drugs, which are often marketed as bath salts or incense, make it more difficult to outlaw specific substances, Stenehjem said.

His office is drafting legislation to make the substances illegal if they have a "core chemical" that's common to different types of synthetic marijuana or hallucinogens. The bills will be introduced when the Legislature begins in January.

"The hallucinogens, the synthetic LSDs, are something that our law really isn't completely up to speed on, and so that's something that we'll be working on," Stenehjem said.

He also plans a separate legal strategy: Outlawing the sale of any substance if the seller knows his or her customer is going to use it to get high.

"The problem isn't necessarily the penalties. The penalties are plenty severe," Stenehjem said later in an interview with The Associated Press. "The problem is defining exactly what substances are we talking about, because to get a criminal prosecution, you have to specify what it is that is illegal."

Charlene Schweitzer, a forensic scientist in North Dakota's state crime laboratory, said the law needs to include additional classes of synthetic drugs that are made to mimic the effects of marijuana, stimulants and LSD.

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