As of late Friday morning, substances containing seven chemicals causing reactions similar to previously known illicit drugs were outlawed in North Dakota.
The North Dakota Board of Pharmacy banned five "cannabinoid" substances and two stimulants at a Thursday night meeting. The bans went into effect late Friday morning when the Legislative Council received and published the emergency rule passed by the pharmacy board, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said.
Gov. John Hoeven approved the emergency rule making process.
The board must hold a public hearing within 60 days where people can comment on the rule before it becomes permanent. The meeting has been scheduled for 2 p.m. April 24 at the Grand International Hotel in Minot during a state pharmacy convention.
The Bismarck Tribune and other local media outlets on Wednesday reported on police knowledge of several substances that were being sold at local businesses that produce highs similar to known illicit drugs.
Howard Anderson, executive director of the state pharmacy board, said the emergency rule had been under consideration prior to the media reports on the products after law enforcement officers and operators of transitional correctional facilities brought it to the board's attention.
Shops throughout North Dakota had been selling "cannabinoids," which are substances that are chemically similar to THC, and "mephedrone," a stimulant that can cause hallucinogenic effects. Stenehjem said Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents planned to visit the shops on Friday with notice of the new law so that the stores were aware they could no longer sell the products.
Stenehjem said he had learned of stores having last-minute sales on the items Thursday night and Friday morning, advertised by text message. The sales should be over now, he said.
"It's a criminal offense to sell or possess these items," he said. "They can't sell them anymore."
Several people in recent weeks consumed or injected themselves with "stardust," labeled and sold as an herbal bath salt, and ended up in the hospital. Stardust contains mephedrone, which has been widely reported on in Europe and banned in some countries. Police say people who have used it report it has similar effects to methamphetamine or other illicit drugs.
ig Willies, a Mandan business, has sold stardust, but agreed on Thursday to pull it off shelves after speaking to police about it.
However, William Nickel, co-owner of Big Willies, attended the Thursday night pharmacy board meeting and indicated his disapproval with the law forbidding the cannabinoid substances.
Stenehjem and Anderson explained at the meeting that the state laboratory tested products sold at Big Willies and other stores around the state to find out the chemical make up of the substances. They learned the products are herbs sprayed with chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana when smoked.
The herbal incense portion of the product was not the problem, they explained - the problem is the chemicals sprayed on them. The chemicals are not listed on the ingredient list on the package, which says the substance is not for human consumption.
Nickel expressed concern that he would not know how to tell which items in his store contain which chemicals. However, he also touted the effects of the chemicals, saying his customers use them to mitigate symptoms from seizures and brain damage, among other ailments.
Nickel also worried that he would be out money for the products he already had in his store.
Assistant Attorney General Mike Mullen explained the process of getting rid of the products would be similar to a grocer dealing with contaminated food.
"The seller has to remove the contaminated or illegal products from the marketplace, and that's it," he said. "It's what the law requires."
The board voted unanimously to add the substances to Schedule I, all noting that it was a public health issue. Pharmacist Gary Dewhirst said if someone uses the substance, has a bad reaction and goes to the emergency room, the lack of knowledge of what the product contains would delay treatment and could put the person's life at risk.