The state House on Thursday unanimously passed and forwarded to the Senate a bill that would ban spice, an herb often smoked as a legal alternative to marijuana.
HB 2167, with a bipartisan list of sponsors, would classify and outlaw 10 chemicals that can be sprayed on the herb as dangerous drugs under state law.
Spice is sold as incense and marked as not for human consumption, but it’s often smoked. Because its strength can vary from brand to brand, lawmakers say spice is more dangerous than marijuana because it produces unpredictable side effects.
“As of right now, this drug is easily accessible and putting many Arizonans at risk, especially our most vulnerable: our children,” Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Anthem, the bill’s author, said at a news conference. “The impacts and risks associated with spice are gravely serious.”
Studies have shown that spice is popping up in schools around the state, prompting school officials to warn parents, she said.
The measure includes an emergency clause, which requires votes from three-quarters of members in each house, that would make its provisions take effect immediately upon Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature.
In November, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it plans to enact a temporary ban on five of the chemicals used to create spice. The ban would last for at least a year while the DEA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study the chemicals. HB 2167 would ban those five chemicals and an additional five.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said distributors are deluding youth by marketing the substance as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana.
“We will aggressively handle those who are continuing to distribute or trying to sell the substance to our youth,” he said. “It’s not legal, it’s not marijuana — it can cause serious health consequences up to and including death.”
The chemical most common in spice is JWH 018, a synthetic cannaboid that mimics the effect of THC, the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, in marijuana.
Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, a hospital physician and sponsor of the bill, said he admitted a young man who had smoked spice and had symptoms similar to a stroke or seizure, had blurred vision and couldn’t speak.
But three friends who had smoked about the same amount had no symptoms, Heinz said
“The unpredictability is a very dangerous aspect because, as a medical provider, we cannot predict who would have those kinds of severe, serious reactions,” he said.
Quick facts about spice:
• Composition: A mixture of herbs varying by brand sprayed with a chemical, JWH 018, that when smoked mimics the effect of tetrahydrocannibol, or THC, in marijuana.
• Reported Side Effects: Agitation, nausea, fever, hallucinations, seizures, altered state and combativeness.
• Brands: K2, Black Mamba and Wicked X, among others.