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Duluth approves synthetic marijuana ban

DULUTH, Minn. - The Duluth City Council unanimously voted to outlaw the sale, manufacture, purchase or possession of synthetic marijuana in city limits Monday night. In so doing, Duluth became the first city in the state to make synthetic marijuana illegal.

Councilor Jeff Anderson, a radio man, abstained from the vote because his station advertises for Last Place on Earth, a Duluth head shop that opposed the proposed ordinance.

Jim Carlson, owner of Last Place on Earth, threatened to sue the city if it placed his business at an unfair disadvantage with competitors in neighboring communities. Because synthetic marijuana accounts for about half of the sales volume at his shop, Carlson said the ban stands to cost more than $400,000 in lost taxes from his operation alone.

Brian Premo, a Duluth resident, spoke in favor of regulating sales of synthetic marijuana but advised against an outright ban of the product. He said the city won't succeed in keeping people from using synthetic marijuana, often called K2 or Spice, and will probably drive the business underground.

"You will create a black market that will only make it far more difficult to regulate and control," he said.

Joe Gellerman, an employee of Last Place on Earth, said no deaths have been officially attributed to the use of JWH-018, the active compound in synthetic marijuana.

"Why isn't the city more concerned about the sale of tobacco and alcohol, which are proven killers?" he asked.

But Cheryl Berg of Augusta, Wis., urged the council to ban synthetic marijuana, relating the story of her 25-year-old son, Jason, who was committed to a mental institution after using the substance. She described how K2 turned her son into a pacing, panicked, paranoid and delusional young man.

"This is becoming a fast-growing epidemic," Councilor Kerry Gauthier said of synthetic marijuana use.

"I hope this is a step in the right direction for the state of Minnesota to ban this product," said Gauthier, calling the drug a clear public health hazard.

Because synthetic marijuana does not show on conventional drug tests, Councilor Jay Fosle expressed concerns that people in safety-sensitive jobs might be inclined to abuse the substance, creating a public hazard.

Todd Fedora, who first proposed the ban, praised fellow councilors for their action Monday and said: "I hope this will be a call to action to our sister cities to clear this out of their communities, as well."

Peter Passi is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune