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Mother's quest may pay off with legislation

When her son almost died after smoking synthetic marijuana, Stacy Huberty spoke up. Since that day in June, she has been surprised at how many people have listened to her story.

Now, it appears as though her fight is going to pay off. Late last week, State Senator Katie Sieben announced she plans to introduce legislation in 2011 that would make the substances illegal. Essentially, synthetic marijuana is a mixture of herbs that are sprayed with THC. The products are legally sold at smoke shops, including one near Hastings.

In June, Huberty's son used the product. She found him on the floor in a bathroom sweating and vomiting. He was rushed to the Regina Medical Center emergency room, where nurses and doctors saved him. A few days later, Huberty wrote a letter to the editor to this newspaper. A follow-up story was written, and since then she's been hard at work on the case. All that work culminated in a big victory last week when Sieben announced she'd seek to introduce a bill should she be re-elected. Later, Denny McNamara, a state representative, said he'd support that effort.

"I'm really hoping that it all goes through," Huberty said. "I'm amazed at what one letter to the editor could do.

"When I originally wrote the letter, it was just to let people know. I wanted to let parents know about it, and kids know it was far more dangerous than they realized.

"I'm really excited they're going to make it illegal. Obviously, with what I went through with my son, it's so dangerous. People just need to be aware of it."

Synthetic marijuana also goes by the name of Spice or K2. When smoked, the drug has strong and dangerous side effects, including heart palpitations, respiratory issues, vomiting, agitation, panic attacks and delusions.

Sieben said that since the drug is legal, its use is skyrocketing among teens.

"However," she said, "this product is clearly dangerous. Teens are ending up in the emergency room, in a coma, or even dying. After the close call with the boy in Hastings, we need to take action in Minnesota to keep this drug out of the hands of our kids."

Sieben said Kansas and Georgia have recently passed laws making synthetic marijuana illegal and several other states are also considering legislation to do so, including Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois.

"States around us are acting fast to get these dangerous products off the shelves," she said. "I'm already consulting with the Dakota County Attorney's office and working with legislative counsel to get this bill drafted."

Huberty's story will also be published in Alert magazine, a drug and alcohol abuse prevention magazine that is distributed to high schools in eight states.

"I'm ecstatic over that," she said. "I was just hoping to reach people locally. Now, if this can go through, we're talking about millions of parents and kids."

Support group meeting

Huberty started a support group for parents whose children are using drugs, but it's not necessarily restricted.

"Anybody is welcome, even if they don't know for sure if their child is using," Huberty said. "(They may want to come) to find out more about it, or if they want to know the signs that their child is using."

The group meets at 7 p.m. every Wednesday at United Methodist Church in Hastings.

"I just really think there's such a need in Hastings," Huberty said. "Once word gets out there, hopefully more people will come. Unfortunately, there's a stigma here. People don't want to admit that, 'Yeah, my child has been through treatment' or whatever. They shouldn't feel that way. From the research I've done, kids from any economic and social background can start using. I'm just hoping people can get past that fear and just come for their kids' sake."

Huberty agreed with Sieben in that the use of synthetic marijuana is on the rise.

"From talking with a police officer, it's kind of like spreading like wild fire," she said. "(Children) know it's not illegal to have. It's not illegal to buy. It's not illegal to smoke. What the kids don't realize is that some of these products, depending on who is marketing it, they can be up to 100 times more potent than regular marijuana.

"Kid's don't realize what they're getting into. Just like my son. He had no idea what he was in store for."