NEW ULM - A new synthetic form of marijuana disguised as incense, is finding its way into rural Minnesota.
Kryptonite or K2, sometimes found in counterfeit forms, is advertised as incense by retailers. However, it creates a more intense high than marijuana, is too easy to purchase and not regulated enough, according to substance abuse workers and law enforcement.
Tobacco shops that sell products labeled "herbal incense" have raised the ire of substance abuse workers and drug task force officials.
Sam Tabate, owner of Smokes 4 Less in New Ulm, said the product his shop sells is an herbal incense, not intended for consumption, and that it is clearly labeled as such. He said it is a legal product in Minnesota, and that his shop strictly prohibits anyone under 18 from entering the shop, let alone purchasing anything. People are carded as soon as they enter the store, and if they are under18, they are told to leave.
"For them to say it's incense is bull. It's sold as incense but it is ingested," said New Ulm Medical Center Substance Abuse Services Program Manager James Johnson Jr.
"We've had lots of problems with it up here," Johnson said. "People get sick. It's hard to detect. Tests are very expensive. Its composition can be changed. It's not regulated, so anything besides cannabinoids could be in it. It's cheap."
Johnson said users smoke the incense by rolling it up like marijuana, adding it to tobacco, ingesting it by pipe or other means.
Minnesota and other 17 states have passed laws targeting certain compositions of certain synthetic cannabinoids (active marijuana compounds) found in herbal incense.
Johnson would like to see stiffer criminal penalties for retailers selling illegal substances.
"It's only a $500 fine, which is not much of an incentive to not sell it," Johnson said. "Eleven synthetic cannabinoids have been identified. Five were banned, leaving six still available. Manufacturers find ways to get around laws. Many people that use it are under age 18."
He said a federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) story read that there are more than 100 versions of synthetic marijuana and designers stimulants.
Brown-Redwood-Renville-Lincoln-Lyon Drug Task Force member Jeff Hohensee of New Ulm said parents, especially of teenagers, should be made aware of the incense and talk to their children about its ill effects.
"Incense packages state it's not for human consumption, but many young people, typically age 15-20, are abusing it," Hohensee said. "I've talked to some kids on the street who said they didn't like the high they got from it. Some people throw up or pass out from it. Others are hooked on it. We need to educate everyone about this."
Hohensee said producers keep skirting the law by creating incense with new ingredients, which causes law enforcement to test retail products to see if they're selling banned substances.
He said a Marshall tobacco shop owner was recently charged with a gross misdemeanor for selling incense with banned ingredients.
"I think the punishment is too weak, and the stuff is too easy to buy," Hohensee said. "People are making such huge profits selling this stuff, they keep on doing it. Then it's up to city councils to see what happens to their business license."
Incense outlets advertise their products as a blend of natural, exotic botanicals and proprietary ingredients they claim have medicinal benefits.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).