Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill Tuesday immediately banning the drug known as Spice and listing the 10 chemicals sprayed on the herbal blend as dangerous drugs.
Users who smoke Spice, an herbal incense marketed as not for human consumption, experience a marijuana-like high, but also dangerous side-effects such as trouble breathing, paranoia, agitation, seizures, loss of consciousness, elevated heart rate and vomiting.
House Bill 2167, which targets Spice, also known as K2 or JWH-018, was unanimously passed by the Arizona House of Representatives on Feb. 3 and by the Arizona Senate on Feb.10.
"I'm happy that the Legislature moved quickly and with bipartisan support to outlaw these dangerous substances," Brewer said. "I'd especially like to thank Reps. Amanda Reeve and Matt Heinz, along with Sen. Linda Gray, for helping shepherd this important bill through the legislative process, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Maricopa County Attorney's Office for playing a key role in the development of this measure."
Arizona now joins 11 other states that have outlawed the use of these synthetic compounds, which can be up to 700 times more potent than the active ingredient in marijuana. Twenty states are presently considering similar legislation.
"We're glad the state has taken steps to outlaw Spice, because it is a dangerous product," said Lt. Tim Fletcher, spokesman for the Prescott Police Department. "Enforcement will be a challenge at first, because it is new legislation."
Prescott police forwarded several reports to the Drug Enforcement Agency about people who used Spice seeking treatment for dangerous side-effects they experienced, arrested people for driving under the influence of Spice, and recently investigated two cases of people stealing spice from stores that sell it, Fletcher said.
On Sunday, an unknown smashed in the front glass door to the Quick Stop on Montezuma Street, stole seven bottles of Spice, and left when the alarm went off. On Jan. 26, a young man stole a 3-gram container of Watermelon Pandora Spice from The Island Store on Miller Valley Road, Fletcher said.
When Prescott police and MATForce conducted a study of Spice use by juvenile probationers in Yavapai County, they found "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.
Since then, many more labs have developed the ability to test for the chemical compounds found in Spice, Fletcher said.
"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.
Bartosh said a grandmother recently spoke to MATForce about the devastating effects Spice use has had on her two grandsons, and that a suspect recently robbed a Cottonwood business owner at knifepoint for Spice.
"With Governor Brewer's signing of this legislation, users and sellers of this dangerous drug should consider themselves on notice that we will aggressively prosecute and hold them accountable for the threat they pose," said Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County attorney.