MANKATO — A Mankato head shop has pulled incense products that also contained intoxicating chemicals after federal and state agents raided a similar store in Duluth Wednesday.
An employee at Smokes 4 Less said owner Omar Wazwaz decided to take that type of incense off store shelves Thursday after hearing reports of the raids in Duluth and elsewhere. The incense was going to be available at the store through the end of the month, but Wazwaz changed his mind after the raids, she said.
Federal authorities and Duluth police officers on Wednesday confiscated more than 20,000 packages of what they suspected is synthetic marijuana and more than $3,000 in cash from a store there called The Last Place On Earth, a Duluth Police Department news release said. Another $2.8 million was seized from bank accounts controlled by the store’s owner.
On Thursday Gov. Mark Dayton sent a statewide message about synthetic drugs by symbolically signing a law passed in April that will make it a felony to sell a wide variety of synthetic drugs starting Wednesday. The new law also provides more authority to the state’s Board of Pharmacy to make rule changes more quickly, which will allow the board to keep up with synthetic drug manufactures who make slight chemical alterations to evade new laws.
Smokes 4 Less, which is currently located in a strip mall near the downtown Cub Foods, and several other stores in the state owned by Wazwaz have changed their supply of synthetic marijuana products as state laws have changed. When he was interviewed two years ago about the products he was selling, Wazwaz told The Free Press: “I’m paying beaucoup taxes because we’re selling a ton of it. The government is making a lot of money.”
He also said the products, which sold for $40 for a 3 gram package at that time, were being sold as incense and were not for human consumption. Wazwaz compared the incense, which had names such as Trance, Bubble Dum, and Happy Orange, to cleaning products and said they shouldn’t be banned because some people were using them improperly.
There are people in Blue Earth County who are using the product as a drug, said Angie Youngerberg, Blue Earth County assistant director of human services. Synthetic drug use has been a topic of discussion for people in a variety of the county’s social services programs, she said.
There have not been a rash of medical-related problems with the synthetic drugs in the Mankato area, said Kevin Burns, a spokesman for Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. There have been Emergency Room visits where the drugs have been a factor, but not many, he said.
“I’m not going to say we don’t see it, but we don’t see it in great numbers,” he said.
Mankato police officers have not been issuing citations to people caught with synthetic marijuana products, said Cmdr. Pam Hermanson. Laws already exist banning synthetic cannabinoids, but people making the products have slightly changed the chemical compounds to avoid violating existing laws.
At least four people have been charged with a misdemeanor in Nicollet County this year for possession of synthetic marijuana products. A Blue Earth County sheriff’s deputy cited a 20-year-old Mankato man for a misdemeanor for having 10 packages suspected synthetic marijuana on June 27.
An 18-year-old New Ulm man pleaded guilty to the charge when he appeared in Nicollet County court Wednesday. Charges are still pending for the others, including a man represented by attorney Calvin Johnson.
Johnson said current synthetic drug laws are too vague. In many of the cases he’s aware of the charges are dismissed in plea agreements because area prosecutors don’t want to deal with them. Johnson said he also requests the suspected drugs be tested for the cases he has handled. That has never resulted in a chemical analysis by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
“Isn’t it ironic that we treat a synthetic form of marijuana worse than the real thing?” Johnson said.
Possession of a small amount of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor, which isn’t considered a criminal offense in Minnesota.