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San Diego to consider ban on synthetic drug ‘spice’

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Typical "spice" packet illegally sold. Courtesy: Wikipedia

SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of medical distress cases attributed to “spice” in San Diego has prompted a proposed ban on the synthetic drug that will be considered by the City Council on Monday.

The proposed law would prohibit the manufacture, sale, distribution and possession of Federal Schedule I drugs, “novel synthetic drugs” and “novel psychoactive drugs,” categories that include spice.

The San Diego Police Department is recommending the ban because of holes in state and federal regulations that are exploited by makers and sellers of so-called designer drugs.

According to a staff report, emergency medical personnel responded to 650 cases of medical distress caused by spice between November and March, around two-thirds in a swath of the city running from Barrio Logan through downtown to Hillcrest. Downtown and East Village saw about half the cases.

The average number of calls per month from April to October last year was seven, the report said.

In February, there were 120 such cases in downtown alone. The report said spice is frequently used by the homeless, particularly in the 300-500 blocks of C Street — alongside the trolley tracks just east of City Hall — and the 1200-1300 blocks of Imperial Avenue.

Investigators viewing surveillance camera footage said they saw the drug consumed almost immediately after purchase, sometimes among members of a group, and they described as “alarming” what came next.

“Several of the users became incapacitated immediately after ingesting the spice,” the report says. “Many fell directly to their knees and shortly thereafter, lost consciousness. Some began stumbling and had difficulty standing or walking. Many had to hold onto the side of a building, a nearby tree, newspaper stand or some other sturdy object to prevent from falling.”

Emergency medical personnel were sometimes met by violent responses from spice users too incoherent to realize someone was trying to help them, according to the report.

Police said spice is a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Manufacturers typically alter the molecular structure of the drug in order to get around narcotics laws.

The drug looks and feels like marijuana, and is ingested by smoking, but is far more potent, according to the report.

Police said if the ban is passed, it would be enforced criminally, civilly or administratively through procedures already existing in the municipal code.