Duluth's Last Place on Earth raided as new synthetic drug crackdown goes into effect

Officers storm Last Place during yesterday's raid.
Officers storm Last Place during yesterday's raid.
Star Tribune video screengrab

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Jim Carlson, owner of Duluth's Last Place on Earth, has made millions of dollars selling synthetic drugs -- in fact, he estimated his store sold $6 million worth of synthetic marijuana and stimulants last year alone.

But the good times may be nearing an end. Yesterday, Last Place was raided by federal agents, and today, Gov. Dayton held a somewhat bizarre bill-signing ceremony for a synthetic drug crackdown that was approved by the legislature... in April.

Yesterday's raid began just before noon when a city bus stopped outside Last Place's downtown storefront. Out popped about two dozen officers. They rushed into the store and placed a number of customers in plastic handcuffs. Two were arrested for outstanding warrants unrelated to the synthetic drug crackdown.

Robert Miller, a Duluth resident who saw the raid unfold, told WDIO TV that the officers -- some federal agents, others Duluth police -- "had fully automatic weapons and full body armor. It looked like they were going to war."

Carlson is apparently fishing in Alaska, but his girlfriend and business partner, Lava Haugen, told the Star Tribune that authorities, with search warrant in tow, seized at least $20,000 worth of herbal incense, as well as files, invoices, business records, and guns Carlson stores on the premises. Officers finally left after 4 p.m.

It was the second time Last Place was raided in the last year. In September, Duluth police seized more than $50,000 worth of incense, cash, electronics, and guns from Carlson's store.

In a statement, Duluth police said the yesterday's raid had been in the works for many months.

"For the last 16 months, problems with synthetic drugs and the behaviors around the Last Place of Earth downtown have been a major concern for our citizens, business community and the police department," the statement says. No charges have yet been filed in connection with yesterday's raid, which included officers from the Duluth PD, Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force, and DEA.

UPI reports that the commotion at Last Place was part of a nationwide crackdown -- between yesterday and today, authorities conducted raids in more than 100 cities.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Gov. Dayton held a signing ceremony for the aforementioned April-approved bill.

From a press release distributed by Dayton's office:

Cynthia Peterson's boyfriend was arrested during yesterday's raid. She told the Duluth News Tribune he "was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."EXPAND
Cynthia Peterson's boyfriend was arrested during yesterday's raid. She told the Duluth News Tribune he "was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Star Tribune video screengrab

This important public safety law expands the definition of illicit "synthetic" substances and grants the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy expedited rulemaking authority to handle the ever-changing chemical formulae used by drug producers. The law increases the penalty for sale of synthetic cannabinoids from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, a $10,000 fine, or both. It will take effect August 1, 2012.

In addition to the state's efforts, a new federal synthetic drug crackdown criminalizing more chemicals goes into effect October 1.

Following yesterday's raid, the Northland's NewsCenter reported that Carlson remained defiant and promised to continue selling synthetics when Last Place opened today. A call to the store this morning seeking clarification wasn't returned, though an employee said the store is open for business as usual.

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