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Tucson city leaders drafting "Spice" ordinance

Posted at 6:59 PM, Sep 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-08 01:24:00-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) -- Tucson city leaders are working on an ordinance to address Spice use in the city.

The Tucson City Council discussed the issue during a study session on Wednesday. Mayor and council passed a motion to have an ordinance written within the next 45 days.

The ordinance will give the Tucson Police Department the tools it needs to enforce laws relating to the synthetic drug, it may give the city the option to revoke business licenses for places caught selling Spice, and it will give local leaders some direction on how to educate the public about the dangers of Spice, K2 and related products.

The motion will also encourage federal authorities to look at the issue.

A number of community leaders addressed the council, including Dr. Francisco Garcia with the Pima County Health Department, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, Lt. James Scott with TPD, and Tucson Fire Department Chief Jim Critchley.

Spice is a synthetic marijuana. It can be sold at smoke shops under hundreds of different names and is passed off as incense labeled "not for human consumption." According to the health department, users report feeling relaxed, but the drug can cause adverse effects like hallucinations and seizures.

Council member Regina Romero said the city isn't trying to point fingers at the people using Spice, but the city needs to come up with a way to help those individuals.
Questions were raised about what kind of legal action the city can take when it comes to enforcement. There are some gaps that can be filled that aren't addressed at a state or federal level, including closing legal loopholes by prohibiting certain ingredients producers put in Spice.

Council member Steve Kozachik says we have to take action at a local level, and shouldn't wait for state and federal legislators.

Dr. Garcia says in 2015 there were 2 Spice related deaths in Pima County. In the same amount of time there were more than 40 alcohol related deaths, and more than 200 Opioid related deaths. 

While we haven't seen many deaths, Chief Magnus said responding to Spice calls can be very significant incidents. Those high on the drug are often found in "Zombie-like" condition, Magnus said, and in many cases the users struggle with police. He says there are human and community costs, and financially it can be expensive.

Lt. Scott works with TPD's narcotics unit and says the conversation on Wednesday was a step in the right direction. He believes ultimately the goal should be treating Spice users. A large population of Spice users in Tucson are transients who also need other types of care.

"It's not just locking people up in jail, these people have addiction issues that need to be addressed," Scott said. "If we don't tackle the problem it's going to continue."

One idea is to put Spice users in some kind of diversion program.

Since the federal raids in Tucson in July, Scott says they have seen a significant decrease in Spice related calls.

Chief Critchley says in the month of August Tucson Fire had 17 Spice related calls, but the department is used to responding to about 75 a month.

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