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OUR VIEW: Drug's ban makes sense

A staggering state budget deficit will command Minnesota lawmakers' attention during this 2011 legislative session, and rightfully so, but other issues always are given consideration.

A public safety problem deserving of attention this year is the spread of synthetic marijuana.

Law enforcement officers, including from Cottage Grove and Hastings, report seeing growing use of the drug among teenagers and young adults. Synthetic marijuana is a lab-manufactured combination of herbs and chemicals. The result is a drug that can be as much as five times as potent as marijuana. It's known as "Spice" or "K2."

And it's perfectly legal to buy. It can be purchased over the counter from tobacco shops and even convenience stores.

That frustrates and concerns cops, prosecutors and some parents. They have witnessed the negative effects of the drug, which have included young people ending up hospitalized after using synthetic marijuana. That happened to a Hastings teenager, whose mother is advocating to make the drug illegal.

That could, and should, happen. Sen. Katie Sieben, a Democrat, and GOP Rep. John Kriesel, both of Cottage Grove, say they will push legislation to make synthetic marijuana's possession and distribution illegal. While the legislation is yet to be crafted in committees, lawmakers' intention makes sense and addresses a public safety problem in our communities. That there already is bipartisan support for the measure, at least locally, is promising.

There is precedent for this type of legislative action. Just last year, for instance, lawmakers made salvia divinorum illegal. The plant was available in retail shops and when chewed or smoked causes hallucinogenic effects. It was popular among teens and young adults.

Several years ago there were concerns about the spread of another drug: methamphetamine. Clandestine, make-shift meth labs were popping up all over the state and the potent drug's use was on the rise. Stiff laws targeting access to methamphetamine ingredients helped curb its production in Minnesota, if not its usage.

When law enforcement officers raise concerns about unchecked drug activity, policymakers often are quick to react. The rise of synthetic marijuana use in Washington County and elsewhere warrants that reaction.