Speaking at a press conference in his office Wednesday afternoon, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem called for an emergency ban of certain chemical compounds found in synthetic drugs and issued a "cease and desist" order to a Mandan head shop from selling synthetic drugs.
The head shop, "Big Willie's ATP, LLC.," has been issued the order because the attorney general finds it clear that the business has violated the laws commonly known as the "Consumer Fraud Law" and the "North Dakota Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act."
The business has violated the Fraud Law, or Title 51, Chapter 5 of the North Dakota Century Code, because the products on its shelves, which went under such names as "Spice," "Glass Cleaner," "Bath Salts" and "Herbal Incense," had been marketed as "not for human consumption" but was known to be fully intended for exactly that purpose, the cease and desist order states.
Synthetic drugs have long been a problem both nationally and in the state.
"Smiles," or 2C-I, is a name sadly familiar to residents of Grand Forks who were rocked in June when the drug took the lives of two area teens and caused a string of other overdoses not resulting in fatality.
Smiles, a synthetic cathinone, has been described as giving a feeling like an intense mixture of MDMA ("ecstasy") and LSD ("acid"). The drug is known nationally due to its alleged involvement in the September death of actor Johnny Lewis, who played Kip "Half Sack" Epps on the FX network show "Sons of Anarchy" for two seasons, at the age of 28.
"Could it be (in Ward County)? Yeah," said Lieutenant Willy Graham of the Ward County Sheriff Department. "People travel between" the cities of North Dakota "all the time," he said, seeing the arrival of the drug in our region to be a possibility.
Although Graham has not seen evidence of the use of Smiles in particular, he does say that the use of other synthetics are "a growing concern" for the county. Other synthetics include "botanicals," often called "spice" or "incense," which are designed to simulate the effects of marijuana, and "bath salts," which are crystalline compounds designed to simulate the effects of drugs from amphetamines to cocaine.
Bath salts have been of national interest at least since May when it had been cited as a possible influence on Rudy Eugene, who was shot to death by police when he refused to quit eating the face of another man in Miami, Fla.
President Obama signed the "Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act of 2011" into law in July to ban certain compounds found in dangerous synthetic drugs. The specific new compounds banned are MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) and mephedrone.
North Dakota passed its own bill, SB2119, in 2011. The bill was an act that amended and reenacted those sections of Title 19, Chapter 3, of the North Dakota Century Code that pertain to drug scheduling. Those sections list page upon page of specific drugs and chemical compound classes that have been banned in the state. Some feel that those compounds are simply not enough and lag behind the introduction of new, similar compounds that are not banned in the code.
A state legislative hearing held in Bismarck in October heard testimonies from an assistant North Dakota attorney general and two members of the Crime Lab Division of the Office of the Attorney General expressing a need for more compounds to be banned.
Just three weeks after SB2119 was passed, the Crime Laboratory Division of the Office of the Attorney General "started identifying new compounds that fell outside the classes defined in the Century Code," said Crime Lab forensic scientist Charlene Schweitzer in her testimony. She recommended the addition of one specific new compound class (Tetramethylcyclopropanoylindoles) to the Century Code, and said that the Lab has identified four more compounds that "are being proposed to be specifically named and added to the Century Code."
"We have no way, under state law, of prohibiting these dealers from selling these substances," said Julie Lawyer, an assistant attorney general for the state, in testimony. She had specifically mentioned Smiles and the deaths associated with the drug. "The makers and distributors of synthetic drugs do what they can to find a way around the law."
The Grand Forks Police Department was unable to comment on the Smiles case due to it still being an active investigation. It is still uncertain if the drug has found an inroads into Minot or the wider northwestern North Dakota community.
The attorney general is scheduled to appear before the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy at 2 p.m. today "to propose emergency rules" to ban new chemicals, according to a news release issued by his office Wednesday.