Anchorage has a new law that fines people in possession of the designer drug spice. It’s the city’s second try at cracking down on the drug…after failed attempts with a narrow law that focused on contents that manufacturers change quickly. The Anchorage Assembly acted quickly Tuesday after hearing public testimony on the damage that spice has been doing.
The drugs, marketed as synthetic marijuana, with names like brainfreeze and trainwreck are sometimes disguised as potpourri, bath salts or incense but are sold by the ounce. Law enforcement experts say Spice makes people act more like their on PCP or Meth, than smoking pot. They develop superhuman strength, euphoria and violent mood swings. Officials have been looking for a way to stop Spice since it showed up in the city a few years back. But manufactures, mostly in Asia don’t list ingredients on packaging and lab tests can’t keep up with drug manufactures changing recipes, so it’s been hard to address through the legal system.
About half a dozen citizens spoke out in support of the new Spice ordinance.
Shawn Williams who owns a business blocks from a downtown smoke shop said one day he looked out his window and saw a man passed out on the sidewalk.
“We called 9-1-1. AFD and APD shows up. After about 15 minutes the guy comes around and immediately reaches in his pocket – the officer was trying to figure out what was going on – and he pulls out this little glass case and the guy says, ‘it’s Spice. I just bought it a few minutes ago.'”
Williams says incidents with Spice are all-too-common in the downtown business district where he works. David Rittenberg, a program manager at the Brother Francis Shelter says over the past year he and his staff have seen a sharp increase in drug related offences at the shelter because of homeless people who are using Spice.
“It’s a very, very dangerous drug mainly because how inconsistent it can be with the affects that it has on people. We have witnessed people using this drug exhibit uncontrollable rage, belligerence, rapid and extreme mood swings, uncontrollable outbursts all the way to seizures, unconsciousness.”
Tom McGrath who worked on the Spenard Action Committee to drive massage parlors out of the neighborhood says now the Spice shops are bringing in more problems.
“Now the same type of people are coming back with these spice shops, the same type of element that we drove out in the 80s and 90s. The Spenard Action Committee, we’ll reconstitute if we have to cause we’re not going to accept this type of thing in our community.”
After hearing the testimony on Spice, the Assembly voted in a new law. It’s allows police officers to issue something akin to a traffic ticket, but for drugs. If Anchorage police officers find a person or business in possession of Spice they can now write a ticket per vial, tube or packet. Municipal Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin says the new law identifies the substances without actually naming their chemical compounds or makeup.
“They identify it by it’s packaging, by it’s price point, by it’s claims. By the fact that it says on its package that it’s not a controlled substance even though it says it’s potpourri. That makes no sense. Potpourri is not a controlled substance so why would it say on it’s package that it’s not a controlled substance. What this ordinance says is that if it says it’s not a controlled substance then it’s an illicit synthetic drug and it’s illegal.”
The new law is based on one that was passed in Maine and will make laboratory tests less necessary. Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew is pleased with the new law and says says it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s a low level crime, it’s handled low, it’s handled in an inexpensive way for the public. And while it’s not the total solution, it is a simple solution that we can put to use right a way while the more complex law starts developing.”
The tickets are $500 per item. Officers could begin issuing them as early as this week.