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City approves emergency law to ban synthetic drug ‘spice’

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SAN DIEGO — An emergency law that prohibits the manufacture, sale, distribution and possession of designer drugs like spice was unanimously approved Tuesday by the San Diego City Council.

The ban on federal Schedule I drugs, “novel synthetic drugs” and “novel psychoactive drugs” — categories that include spice — was initially approved last month, but the emergency designation allows it to take effect immediately.

“The intent here is to save lives and get these poisons off the streets,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald said.

The San Diego Police Department recommended the ban — which does not apply to medical marijuana — because of holes in state and federal regulations that are exploited by makers and sellers of so-called designer drugs. Only a handful of the 100 or so chemical formulas used to make the drug are prohibited.

City staff said emergency medical personnel responded to hundreds of cases of medical distress caused by spice in San Diego between November and March.

“Because the manufacturers of spice and related drugs are constantly changing their chemical composition, the effects are unpredictable and can vary dramatically, with many experiencing violent seizures putting users and the people around them at risk,” said Councilman Todd Gloria, who represents downtown and Hillcrest, neighborhoods that have been heavily impacted by the drug.

“Significant public safety resources are being expended to deal with people under the influence of spice, so banning access to this drug will reduce spice-related calls, making first responders available for other urgent needs,” Gloria said.

He estimated total costs to taxpayers of $3.2 million, including $2.4 million for ambulances and $800,000 for fire engines.

On Monday, the San Diego Association of Governments reported that nearly half the juveniles and a quarter of the adults booked into county jails last year admitted having tried the synthetic drug.

In other actions, the council gave final approval to a pair of ordinances that required second readings.

One of those measures makes permanent a requirement that owners of recreational vehicles, trailers and boats more than 27 feet long and 7 feet high need to obtain a permit before parking them on a street overnight. Such vehicles are also not allowed to be parked within 50 feet of an intersection at any time.

The second measure bans curbside parking along Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter on Friday and Saturday nights, in order to reduce traffic congestion in the busy area.

A tow-away zone will be instituted on Friday and Saturday nights between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., along Fifth Avenue between Broadway and Harbor Drive. Nearly 125 parking spaces will be lost, according to city staff.

One of the main reasons behind the idea is to help drivers quickly load and unload passengers without double-parking and congesting traffic, according to a city report.