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1:57 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

House passes bill banning Spice

The Arizona House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Thursday to ban a drug known as Spice that people have been smoking to get high legally, despite its dangerous side-effects.

Spice, an herbal incense sprayed with chemicals and marketed as not for human consumption, is popular among teens and probationers who smoke it because it affects the brain like marijuana, is not illegal, and was not detected on standard drug screening tests, said Lt. Tim Fletcher, spokesman for the Prescott Police Department.

Spice, also known as K2 or JWH-018, is currently sold in smoke shops, convenience stores, and on the Internet in small vials, packets or bottles under various names including Judgment Day, Spice Gold, and Pandora Spice for up to $55 for 3 grams.

House Bill 2167 expands state statutes to list 10 chemical compounds used in Spice as dangerous drugs.

"Reports from around the state show that this dangerous drug is becoming ever more popular among our younger children," said Amanda Reeve, a Republican from District 6 who sponsored the bill. "It's come to the point where schools are reaching out to parents to notify them of the severity of this drug and its increasing popularity."

The bill received strong bipartisan support.

"Spice is a dangerous drug that right now is widely available to young kids," said co-sponsor Matt Heinz, House minority whip, a Democrat from District 29. "This bill is a major step forward in the public safety and health of Arizona teens."

The Prescott Police Department in coordination with MATForce conducted a study on juvenile probationers in Yavapai County and their use of Spice, Fletcher said. Yavapai County's MATForce promotes legislation to make Spice illegal in Arizona.

"We think Spice is a substance that poses a significant threat to the community and young people in particular," said Doug Bartosh, MATForce co-chair and Cottonwood city manager. "It even says on the label it is not for human consumption."

Bartosh said a grandmother had come in to MATForce to talk about the devastating effects Spice use has had on her two grandsons, and that recently a suspect robbed a Cottonwood business owner at knifepoint for Spice.

"The primary reason juveniles said they used Spice to get high at the time was because there was little availability of a test to detect the drug in their system," Fletcher said.

All of the juveniles who said they used Spice reported having respiratory problems such as trouble breathing, Fletcher said. Some also reported other adverse side-effects including paranoia, agitation, seizures, loss of consciousness, elevated heart rate and vomiting, Fletcher said.

"There were drug recognition evaluations done on a small number of probationers who reported using Spice in the past 24 hours, and all had signs or symptoms of a person who had used marijuana," Fletcher said.

"MATForce took several urine samples to a lab in California and, in individuals who reported Spice use, about 90 percent came back positive for those chemicals."

Since then, many more labs have developed the ability to test for the chemical compounds found in Spice, Fletcher said.

Prescott police forwarded a number of reports about people they encountered under the influence of Spice to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Fletcher said.

On Nov. 24, 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a temporary ban under the Controlled Substances Act on five of the chemical compounds that compose K2. Eleven states have outlawed the use of these synthetic compounds and 21 states are presently considering similar legislation.

"Prescott police have made DUI arrests for people driving under the influence of Spice," Fletcher said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery praised the move.

"I applaud Representative Reeve for taking the initiative to provide my office with the necessary tools to vigorously prosecute retailers, distributors and users of this synthetic dangerous drug in Arizona," Montgomery said. "I urge the state Senate to approve this legislation and protect our youth and communities from this harmful and destructive substance."