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Council bans synthetic marijuana

Superior joined a growing number of local and state governments taking action to ban a synthetically induced high.

Council President Bob Finsland presented the council with a new ordinance banning the use, possession, sale and distribution of synthetic cannibinoid products like K-2, Spice, Genie and Yucatan Fire.

Superior's City Council split 9-1 Tuesday night to adopt the ordinance as presented after more than 30 minutes of debate.

Councilor Greg Mertzig voted against the ordinance, favoring following the council's usual process of review by committee. He questioned whether it would be wiser to regulate it, like alcohol, to control who has access to it.

"I would feel a lot better if we could continue this conversation to include some health professionals that can give use some insight into if this is a health risk," Mertzig said. "I think it would be appropriate to have some professionals in here. I think we're going on assumption most of the time when we're talking about chemicals that most of us can't pronounce ... I think it would be appropriate to get some professionals in here to explain this stuff." Mertzig said that all the information he had on the issue to base his decision on was the ordinance and he really knew very little about synthetic marijuana.

"I am going to say this as clearly as I can to you Mr. Mertzig; they will set up shop in our community tomorrow while you dither with what you are going to do or not do," said Superior Mayor Dave Ross. "... We have been assured by distributors that they will set up shop in our community if we do not pass this ordinance."

Ross said after talking to a distributor of the products last week who wants to warehouse and distribute synthetic marijuana in Superior, he hoped the council would expedite passage of the new city law.

Ross said he views the distribution of synthetic marijuana - an artificial cannibinoid made by treating organic materials with chemicals to produce a high similar to marijuana - as an imminent threat to the community, particularly youth, now that Duluth's City Council - the first in Minnesota - adopted a similar ordinance last week.

Councilors did to protect the community.

"We need to make a strong stand on this," said Councilor Dan Olson. "It's imperative to the future of our city."

"The reason for this ordinance is to avoid this from becoming established in our community," said Finsland. While Finsland is typically a stickler for the council's committee process, he said he felt it was imperative for the city to act quickly now that the city of Duluth adopted a similar ordinance banning the product to avoid distributers from establishing in Superior. He said once the ordinance is adopted, the council can amend it as necessary.

Superior's ordinance is modeled after one adopted by the City Council in Eau Claire, Wis., in July. Ross said the one adopted in Duluth didn't go far enough.

Under the ordinance, it is illegal to use, possess, transport, purchase, attempt to purchase, sell, publically display for sale or attempt to sell, give away, trade or barter the herbal products treated with a variety of chemicals to produce a high similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. The ordinance provides an exception for use under direction or prescription of a physician, dentist or other medical care provider authorized to prescribe pharmaceuticals.

Fines for violations of the new ordinance range from $100 to $500, but doesn't include court fees that would drive those costs higher.

According to the New York Times, eight states had banned the products as of July 10, after Missouri's Gov. Jay Nixon signed a law prohibiting its use. Kansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Iowa and Arkansas adopted similar laws and similar legislation is pending in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio.

State Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, plans to introduce legislation to ban the product in Minnesota.

Ross said he's disappointed Wisconsin hasn't reacted quicker to the problem but he learned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing but isn't likely to reach a conclusion on for another year.

"We haven't seen the proliferation of this substance here yet," said Assistant Police Chief Charles LaGesse.

"If we can pass this tonight, I think it's a step in the right direction," Finsland said. After all, he said the goal is to prevent distributors from becoming established in Superior now that Duluth adopted its ban last week.

"I think we're doing the right thing," said Councilor Esther Dalbec.