On October 19, with no opposition, the Davis County Board of Health banned it. A week later, a similar local ordinance passed by the Garland City Council went into effect. In fact, communities all across Utah have been racing to enact laws aimed at what they see as a new threat – a designer drug known as ‘spice.’
What is Spice?
Spice is made with dried weeds and flowers and treated with synthetic cannabinoids. It is currently marketed as incense, and in many places throughout the United States and the rest of the world, is sold over the counter as a legal herbal drug.
However, users are now ingesting the drug and therefore prompting some to conclude that the ingestion of spice is just as powerful as marijuana.
Since a number of Utah counties and municipalities have jumped on the band wagon and passed localized Spice bans, the state legislature is starting to take notice.
The Arizona state legislature is currently drafting a bill for consideration in the January session. The bill would ban on the sale, manufacture, and possession of Spice statewide.
Problems with Spice
Utah is not alone in its concern over spice: the substance has already been banned throughout much of Europe and Asia, as well as in a number of states, cities, and counties in the United States.
Some commentators vocalize concern about crime rates potentially related to spice. Others note the direct effects of the substance. A forensic psychologist recently told the Davis County Board of Health that Spice is more addictive than marijuana.
Don Linton, a member of the Bear River Health Department Board covering Box Elder, Cache, and Rich counties says problems have been noticed ever since spice emerged in the area. Spice can cause affects similar to drunk driving including erratic driving and swerving. Linton says that people under the influence of the drug have even been brought into the hospital.
Further complicating matters is the fact that spice use does not cause a positive reading in traditional drug testing.
Another troubling problem with spice is its popularity among youthful users. According to Linton, who believes spice is more dangerous than marijuana, there has been abuse from those “immature enough to believe that since this is legal it is okay and must be safe.”
A primary goal for those promoting broader anti-spice legislation is to send a message that spice, far from being a safe alternative to other drugs, is a dangerously harmful substance.
Such legislation may not be far off. Utah Representative Gage Froerer is working on a bill for the January legislative session to create a statewide ban on the drug. The bill is still in the preliminary stages, but Froerer plans to soon unveil the details of his legislation. However, he has disclosed to his constituents that the penalties for driving under the influence of spice would face the same charges as those operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
In October, the Controlled Substances Advisory Committee of the Utah State Legislature met in Salt Lake City and agreed to recommend making possession of spice a class B misdemeanor (other likely possibilities include making manufacture, production, and dispensing the drug a third degree felony). Considering the recommendation of the committee along with the number of local spice bans in Utah, the statewide anti-spice initiative is likely to be successful.
There are even signs of possible national action: Senator Orrin Hatch recently wrote a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration asking them to use emergency powers to classify spice as a Schedule I substance – which would make it illegal to sell. In his letter to the acting DEA administrator, Senator Hatch said, “the spice trend is growing to epidemic proportions in my home state of Utah.”
Critics of Spice Bans, and the Future
Not everyone is an advocate of the spice bans. Some argue that the dangers spice poses are vastly exaggerated, and warn that making the substance illegal will only help the illegal drug trade at the expense of local businesses. Others, while generally in support of stemming recreational use, laude the importance of keeping compounds used in spice available to researchers working to ascertain their possible therapeutic value (spice was originally an organic compound created for research purposes).
The concerns of critics notwithstanding, Utah is likely to become the next state to crack down on spice. And, with Utah’s anti-spice sentiments mirrored across much of the country, future federal action is a distinct possibility.