Minnesota head shops sue DEA over synthetic marijuana

Minnesota heads sock it to the feds.

Minnesota heads sock it to the feds.

Marijuana legalization is on the back burner in Minnesota these days, but that hasn't stopped the state's stoners from opening up another front in the nation's drug wars.

Four head shops from across the state recently joined together to sue the Drug Enforcement Agency over its recently enacted ban on synthetic marijuana products.


The suit, brought in federal district court, alleges that the DEA's ban of five of the most commonly used synthetic cannabinoids is unconstitutional, violates the separation of powers, and skirted mandatory review processes.

Jim Carlson, the owner of the Last Place On Earth, a headshop in Duluth, has already been litigating fake pot for months now, ever since Duluth became the first Minnesota city to effect a ban on the products.

Carlson sued the city, effectively running circles around them with expert affidavits from pharmacology experts who showed the city's ordinance was phrased so broadly it outlawed most cold medications as well.

That legal battle is still dragging on -- Carlson has already racked up $30,000 in attorney fees -- but for the moment the city is allowing him to keep selling his product.

When word of the federal ban came down, Carlson decided to fight it too, but realized he might want some help with the legal bills. He joined with the owners of the Hideaway, a Dinkytown shop, Down in the Valley in the western suburbs, and Disc and Tape in St. Cloud.

Together they hired Marc Kurzman, a Minneapolis lawyer with a pharmacy degree, to help them fight the ban, which went into effect Christmas eve. Because the four stores are challenging the new rule they have been able to continue to sell the banned products.

Not that their business would have changed much if they hadn't gotten that relief. There are so many synthetic cannabinoid compounds -- with more being identified every month -- that Carlson says he's already laid in a supply of fake pot that skirts the ban.

"My suppliers actually hired a DEA-licensed lab to identify the compounds, and the stuff in the compliant product wasn't even on their list of stuff to look for," Carlson says.

So why bring the suit if he's already got a perfectly good work-around?

"Because the law is completely ridiculous," Carlson told City Pages yesterday. "Every day in the paper I read about kids getting $50 fines for marijuana possession, but selling my products is a felony? It makes no sense."