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Minnesota lawmakers to tackle synthetic drugs

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Duluth could play a prominent role in shaping the state of Minnesota’s strategy for dealing with the issue of synthetic drugs.

Next week the city will host Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and a special Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs appointed by House Speaker Paul Thissen to develop legislative recommendations.

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The committee will be led by freshman Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, who said his own community seems a logical place in which to begin a larger discussion. The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. June 7 at the Sheraton Hotel.

“When I look at what’s going on statewide, I think Duluth is clearly ahead of the curve in terms of being educated about what this stuff does to a community, and I think we’re ahead of the curve with respect to having witnessed the ineffectiveness of recent legislative changes,” Simonson said. “So I do think we have resources here in town that are great to have, and I think that we’ll be able to put together something that’s effective.”

Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council in Duluth, said she’s hoping for a strong turnout at next week’s meeting.

“From the standpoint of the local business community, this is our chance to share concerns and show them how much synthetic drugs are impacting our entire community,” she said.

Simonson urged people from all walks of life to share their experiences and make a difference in the process.

“This is an opportunity for people to connect one on one not only with the attorney general but also with our committee. Hearing from people, just regular people telling regular stories, is what really makes an impact on lawmakers. If anyone has a story they want to share and they can get there, please do come,” he said.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness acknowledged the city needs help.

“We’ve been doing everything we can at the local level. But some of the tools that are available at the state level have proven effective in other places. If they can see the scope and severity of the problem we face here, they might be willing to take ownership of this issue and work with us to address it,” Ness said.

Other House members from the committee Simonson will lead include Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater; Jim Newberger, R-Becker; Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park; and John Ward, DFL-Baxter.

They are expected to attend public hearings in Duluth, Brainerd and the Iron Range to learn about the problem of synthetic drug sales and use.

“Our goal will be to try to educate legislators about the magnitude of this problem, and the fact is: If we don’t get a handle on this somehow, it’s going to continue to get worse,” Simonson said.

 Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune

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