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Limits placed on salts and spice Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Nov 05 2011 12:00 PM

The Chula Vista City Council voted Tuesday night to enact an emergency ordinance that places limits on the distribution of psychoactive bath salts and herbal incense, calling them a public nuisance.

Law enforcement agencies call the drugs a threat to the community because they are harmful and sometimes lethal.

They are also inexpensive, accessible and legal.

Since current state laws do not address mere possession in the state, city staff is continuing to work on a local level with law enforcement, schools and community groups in analyzing existing laws and reviewing proposed model ordinances.

Deputy City Attorney Chance Hawkins said the fight against synthetic drug use is a difficult one.

"This is a complicated issue because of the different compounds involved in the chemical substances," he said. "This makes enforcement very tricky."

Recent legislation passed for two California bills to ban emerging synthetic drugs, including AB 486 introduced by state Assemblyman Ben Hueso, and AB420 introduced by state Sen. Ed Hernandez.

Hueso's bill made it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute synthetic stimulants and the other made it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute synthetic cannabinoids.

Though spice is labeled "not for consumption," it is treated with synthetic marijuana.

Bath salts are a street name for synthetic stimulants and alternatives to methamphetamines and cocaine-type substances. While it can be smoked, it is typically injected or snorted and commonly distributed in powder, crystal and liquid forms.

K2 or "spice" is typically sold in small plastic bags and typically smoked. Made to mimic the effects of marijuana, the effects vary from increased heart rate and high blood pressure to agitation, vomiting, hallucinations, delusional thoughts and seizures.

Hawkins said the nuisance model would be the most effective of the options presented Tuesday night and will likely result in a practical reduction of sale and use. The others included criminalizing personal possession, prosecution through the District Attorney's Office and labor-intensive misdemeanor prosecutions.

Hawkins said law enforcement officials don't have field-testing kits available and if they did, the failure to test positive could lead to civil lawsuits against the police department.

The civil ordinance has benefits that include full cost recovery and utilizing fewer staff resources and funds than criminal enforcement would.

Under an enforcement model, the police department would identify known retailers and update them on new state and federal laws, be able to implement monetary penalties and cite businesses for failing to comply with business license ordinances.

Chula Vista Police Department crime lab manager Craig Ogino said that from a chemical viewpoint, analyzing the substance is complicated.

"The problem is the identification of which substance is there," he said. "...There are 39 standards that would have to be run and our lab cannot do this. People (creating the substances) are moving different compounds around so there is no standard and the District Attorney's Office won't prosecute."

Police Chief David Bejarano said the police department has worked to eliminate the sale and use of synthetic drugs for the last two or three months.

"This is a serious health and public safety issue," he said. "We believe this (ordinance) would be a significant step forward in reducing the use of these drugs..."

Bejarano said there has been one incident per month in the last six months as far as calls for medical assistance for individuals who have used synthetic drugs.

Eliza Cardin, co-founder of People Against Smoking Spice, said she started out as "just a mom" who came to a public safety meeting in May, but has since dedicated much of her time to informing the community about the dangers of these drugs.

"Synthetic drugs are causing death," she said. "...They are being sold across the counter to our children. It's addictive and it needs to be taken off the shelves."

In September, Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand asked more than 300 parents, teachers and students whether the district should ban the possession of these drugs on campus and 96 percent said yes. It was banned Oct. 17.

Bill Perno of PASS, and a retired deputy sheriff, said there is an attempt to ban synthetic substances on Jan. 1.

"We need the community's eyes and ears to help," he said. "We're looking for local control to fix what the state's been unable to do."

Currently, 38 states have banned sales of spice while 30 have banned bath salts.

See related video by clicking here: Spice control

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